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News Release
Rural Oregon's services and utilities -- water, electric, fire protection, public safety, health and more -- could lose funding, hurting already disadvantaged populations - 06/23/21

Oregon’s legislature needs to act fast to restore and protect vital services if the ARPA allocation isn’t secured and soon

For Immediate Release: June 23, 2021

CONTACT: Frank Stratton, Executive Director, Special Districts Association of Oregon, 503-881-1895; Jennifer Quisenberry, SDAO, 503.798.9245

(Salem, Ore.) – Promised funding for Oregon’s rural special districts is fast fading if the 2021 Oregon legislature – in its remaining THREE days – doesn’t commit allocations from the state’s share of federal ARPA funds. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is expected to provide Oregon with approximately $2.6 billion in discretionary federal recovery funds for state needs.

Rural districts have banded together to ask for a five percent allocation of the total $2.6 billion available throughout the state, amounting to a one-time $130 million allotment.

“We have been asking for the Governor to make an equity decision, because these needed funds will go to districts serving rural and mostly disadvantaged populations,” said Frank Stratton, executive director of the Special Districts Association of Oregon. “Nearly every Oregonian relies in some degree on special districts for their critical local infrastructure and essential services related to water, sanitation, fire protection, emergency medical services, transportation, soil and water conservation, parks, libraries, and more. Which districts will we have to say ‘no’ to?”

Data from the Special Districts Association of Oregon show these special districts have forecasted $562.3 million in impact throughout this year due to the pandemic. More than half will reduce essential services and one third will reduce their frontline workforce should funding not be allocated.

Stratton adds, “These districts are especially critical in our disadvantaged rural communities, many of which rely almost entirely on special districts for their basic municipal services.  During this time, many districts have issued moratoriums on shutting off water, wastewater, sanitation and other utility services. Recreation/park districts and library districts, which operate largely on programmatic fees and rental charges, have been forced to close their doors. Soil and water conservation districts are unable to perform contract work. First responders and front-line public servants with fire protection districts, healthcare districts, and county service districts providing police protection faced increased risks with limited personal protective equipment.”

Rural service leaders anticipate impacts from the lack of allocation could create substantial inequities. Examples of impact in special districts include but are not limited to:

  • Curry County is home to 38 special districts currently set to receive $0 in ARPA funds.

  • Statewide, port districts have each averaged a 20 percent hit to their annual operating budgets.

  • The Port of Astoria has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated revenue loss as of Jan 31, 2021 standing at $1.376 million, an 18 percent reduction from the previous year.

  • Oak Lodge Water Services District and the community it serves have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In one year, the number of accounts that became delinquent (over 45 days past due) increased by 23.5%. The average balance for these accounts continues to increase each month, currently over $500 on average per account.

  • Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue District estimates the current financial impact is about $300,000, more than 20 percent of its annual budget.

  • The White River Health District has been unable to fully provide the care many of its patients required. The financial losses incurred total approximately $154,000. For a significant period of time, the district has only been able to employ one doctor, one day a week.

  • Sunset Empire Recreation District, which provides childcare and other community benefit services, estimates ‘significant loss’ at $750,000, service disruptions and scores of layoffs.

 

“The distributive process in Oregon has already been developed,” says Stratton. He notes the districts can receive the allocated funds through Oregon’s State Fiscal Recovery funding, which processes through the state’s Department of Administrative Services. “We encourage the Governor to use this process.”

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