County takes Congress to task over funding

Dale Andreasen
Dave Muerer, left, a field representative for Congressman Wally Herger, listens during last week’s board of supervisors meeting in Yreka while Siskiyou County Superintendent of Schools Kermith Walters explains the funding challenges schools are facing.

Emotions ran high Tuesday of last week as Dave Muerer, field representative for Congressman Wally Herger, reported to supervisors about the failure of Congress to pass legislation that would help fund county schools, roads and other needs.

“The U. S. House of Representatives is dysfunctional and energy policy is broken,” Muerer declared in his explanation of why Congress has yet to pass funding to replace lost timber harvest tax revenues for county schools and roads.

Muerer also addressed problems and issues ranging from forest management to energy policy, including high gasoline prices to funding for county roads and dam removal on the Klamath River.

County Superintendent of Schools Kermith Walters spoke about the dire situation pending in the local school systems due to lack of funding.

“I don’t see Congressman Herger doing anything for us,” Walters lamented. “We’ve lost 20 percent of our teaching staff because of this lack of federal revenue and the cutbacks in state funding. We need to have the congressman stand up for us, give us something in return for it (the steep decline in timber harvest tax receipts).”

Without the funding, Walters said, “Fifty percent of the schools in this county will have questions as to whether they can meet their financial obligations this current year and over the next two years.”

“I just think we need to stand up,” he continued, “Let’s get it done! Now, we watch our forests burning up – nothing is happening.”

“Rural legislators are outnumbered,” Muerer responded. “We’re handcuffed by overly restrictive environmental laws. We’re trying to address issues as broadly as we can, but the outlook is not good.”

“From the 1980s on,” according to Muerer, “Mr. Herger has championed more domestic oil drilling and more nuclear energy. He has always been a backer of hydroelectric power.”

Supervisors invited Muerer to the meeting to discuss a perceived lack of communication between Herger and county leadership as well as other issues.

“I will try to do a better job of communication,” Muerer said, “and to keep the board and the people of the county informed of what Congressman Herger is working on.”

He suggested people visit the congressman’s web site and sign up for e-mail alerts on any subject.

Board chair Bill Overman blasted Congress for not authorizing Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding this year and for not providing revenues for the Secure Rural Schools and Communities program.

Overman said the total comes to about $9 million.

Last year revenues for these programs were attached to the emergency supplemental bill for Iraq War funding.

Former county superintendent of schools Frank Tallerico said, “Sometimes you need to step out of the box and ask what the people back home would need and want, even if it doesn’t fit in with your political party’s ideas.”

Supervisor Michael Kobseff said he knows what Congressman Herger is up against. “We may be preaching to the choir,” he said, then demanded that Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools funding be made permanent, “not just a one or five year fix.”

“High energy prices could be the death of our economy,” Kobseff warned. “Then it won’t matter which party someone belongs to.”

Supervisor Marcia Armstrong brought up a litany of subjects that are negatively impacting citizens in her district.

“Gasoline prices are so high, heating fuel costs will hit seniors especially hard,” she said. “We have problems with habitat restoration funds for Klamath salmon, also sediment and other possible impacts of dam removal. Twenty thousand acres of my district are burning. We’re trying to work on fuel reductions in the forest, child abuse, alcohol treatment in the county and other social issues caused by poverty – just to name a few.”

Supervisor Jim Cook added the railroad issue and asked what Herger could do to help keep the (Central Oregon and Pacific) railroad operating. “What can we do to help?” he asked.

“Rural counties don’t have much pull,” said supervisor LaVada Erickson, who asked Muerer where Herger stands on dam removal.

Muerer pointed out that Herger “hasn’t weighed in on the dam removal issue. He wants to move very carefully. There are some farmers who support the removal concept. He has not taken a side on it.”

County administrative officer Brian McDermott noted that he had “good discussions” with Muerer who assured him that he would “come back on a more regular basis.”