Okanogan County received $1.37 million in federal forest funds this week — half for the county road fund and half to be split among the eight school districts in the county.
Getting almost half a million dollars is a welcome change after last year, when the county received only $180,000 — $90,000 for each program — since the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) expired and hadn’t been reauthorized by Congress, according to County Treasurer Leah Mc Cormack.
The omnibus appropriations act passed by Congress in March restored the full payments to Okanogan County and almost 800 other counties across the country.
Washington counties got $17 million in SRS payments in 2016 but, without reauthorization, those same counties received just $2 million last year, according to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington).
SRS payments are one way the federal government compensates counties with large tracts of nontaxable public land.
The SRS program goes back almost a century, when Congress passed legislation specifying that 25 percent of revenues from timber harvests on federal lands would be shared with affected counties for “the benefit of the public schools and public roads in … counties in which national forests are situated.”
Because of significant reductions in timber harvest over the past 30 years, those revenues dropped more than 70 percent, according to Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Washington’s 5th district).
SRS was first enacted in 2000 to make up for this change in revenue. Without SRS, counties receive only the original 25-percent allocation, which is what the county received last year.