A surprise extension of a federal subsidy to timber counties may result in more funding for Del Norte County roads and schools, but officials say they’re not yet sure what the county’s allocation will be.
Del Norte County Unified School District received $517,000 in Secure Rural Schools Funding last year, said Superintendent Don Olson. The County Office of Education received $101,000.
“We’re not sure of the funding rate this year, but it may turn out to be slightly more,” Olson said. “It could also be 5 percent less. We’re not sure what it is yet.”
County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina said the extension will help Del Norte, but he too doesn’t know yet how much funding the county will receive. He said he’s been trying to obtain an allocation schedule, but has been unsuccessful.
Del Norte County receives roughly $2.5 million a year in Secure Rural Schools funding, with $1 million going toward road maintenance. The funding was created as a way of offsetting the financial impact to rural counties from government limits placed on timber harvesting.
Sarina and District 3 Supervisor Michael Sullivan visited Washington, D.C., in April to speak with lawmakers about the Secure Rural Schools program. Sarina said that trip included visits with staff representing Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio.
Wyden has managed to fund the subsidy since 2000 as a safety net for timber counties across the nation after logging on national forests was dramatically decreased to protect fish, wildlife and clean water. This year he tacked the one-year extension of his Secure Rural Schools Act onto a bill to save the nation’s helium reserve.
Sarina said it is not certain at this point how the county roads department will use any extra Secure Rural Schools funding it receives. The department has established a reserve in anticipation of the program being eliminated, Sarina said.
“It will go into their reserve and ultimately be used for road maintenance,” he said, referring to the extra funding. “In general terms (the extension) is positive. Obviously with the decline in timber-related revenues that come off the national forest lands, this has been a way for them to provide funds that assist rural counties.”
The school district will put its $517,000 in Secure Rural Schools funding into a reserve account until district officials have a better idea of what California’s new local control funding formula will look like, Olson said.
Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in July, the local control funding formula could result in more funding for Del Norte schools. Olson said the district has received conservative numbers of what that will look like and expects a more accurate picture at the end of October.
“Right now it will be fine for that funding to be held in reserve and then to be budgeted at another time,” Olson said. “Those funds are unrestricted funds. They could be used for anything including saving again for a rainy day. In the last four years we spent a lot of reserves.”
As Del Norte’s superintendent of schools, Olson manages the County Office of Education’s budget and also plans to put the $101,000 allocated from the Secure Rural Schools program into a reserve fund.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.