The Associated Press

MEDFORD, Ore. - A county in Oregon's timber country has proposed cutting 16 percent of its work force.

An annual budget proposal for Jackson County would reduce the payroll by the equivalent of 172 positions, including 80 workers losing their jobs because the library system is shutting down.

The Congress has not renewed an aid program for counties that used to rely on revenue from timber cutting, and several in Oregon are slashing public payrolls. Even if it is renewed, payments to Oregon may be reduced in coming years.

andquot;This is one of the most difficult times that I can remember,andquot; said Commissioner Jack Walker.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said the proposed budget attempts to preserve public safety and public health, but even those services would take a hit.

The county would no longer rent jail beds from facilities in northern Oregon to alleviate overcrowding, for example. As a result, more criminals would be released early.

The 2007-2008 budget, at $273 million, would be $25 million smaller than last year's. That's a little more than the timber payments provided the county each year.

Jordan said the budget grants raises for elected officials and managers of 3.4 percent, and the commissioners' budget increases to accommodate three staff members who have made full-time. The Medford airport, a self-supporting enterprise, would see its budget rise to $43 million, up $5 million, to cover construction costs.

As in many counties, timber payments have enabled Jackson County to keep a lid on property taxes, which amount to $31 million of the annual revenue.

Voters will decide on a three-year levy on May 15 that would generate $8.3 million a year to reopen libraries.

Jordan said library supporters are also considering asking voters to create a special district for libraries in November 2008 that would provide a permanent solution.