Rep. Cliff Bentz attended the Sept. 6 regular meeting of the Harney County Court to provide a legislative briefing.
He began by announcing that he intends to run for another two-year term as state representative of House District 60.
Bentz also discussed damage caused by snow in Malheur County earlier this year.
“We lost 500 buildings, thereabouts, in Malheur County, and we’re still in the process of trying to rebuild, even now,” he said.
Bentz also discussed the state budget. Although the state had $1.3 billion more looking forward, it was still $1.8 billion short. Bentz attributed the shortage to Medicaid expansion, lack of funding for the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), inflation, and the passage of unfunded ballot measures.
Bentz said he supported tax credits for rural providers, explaining that doctors or nurses can have their taxes reduced by $5,000 per year if they come to a rural area. He also supported a $5,000 tax credit for those who want to install fish screens.
Upon the requests of his constituents, Bentz drafted 83 bills. Seventeen of the bills received hearings, and six became laws. Bentz said he’s also working to get rid of laws, and a number of bills repealed certain measures.
Bentz brought a bill that allows nighttime self-service at fuel dispensaries in counties with less than 40,000 people.
“Why would I bring a bill that might put people who are pumping gas out of work? The answer is right here. If you look at all the little towns in my district, you’ll see town, after town, after town, after town, that has one service station, and the challenge we have in our great, big, almost one-third of the state is making sure we still have access to fuel. And, as you know, there is no fuel now at Burns Junction, and we barely have fuel in other places across the district. Why? Because as the minimum wage goes up, as environmental requirements go up, the cost of having a service station becomes outrageously high, and for 20 people a day coming through your station, you’re not going to be able to afford it. But if you can do away with the need to have somebody pump the gas, perhaps we can reduce the cost, and, thus, still have access to fuel,” Bentz explained.
He also discussed the transportation package, which will raise $5.3 billion for the road system over the next 10 years, and continue to raise funds in the years to come.
Bentz said he received support for the package from county commissioners, mayors, and innumerable other people throughout his district, as county roads in District 60 are falling apart.
“This can’t continue or we will have nothing but gravel roads, and all that we’ve done, that our parents have done, grandparents have done to pay for these beautiful roads will be wasted,” he said.
If not addressed, half of state highways would be in poor condition by 2036, and, at the current rate, it would take 900 years to replace state bridges, Bentz added.
“Did we solve this as best we could? Yes. And I’ll tell you right now, you guys, I’ve never worked harder on something than I did on this,” Bentz said.
A Special Counties Allotment of $5 million will go to large counties with very small populations.
“That would be Harney County,” Bentz said. “You guys come out smelling like a rose on this, you really do. Yeah, it’s big, and I’m extremely happy for that.”
The allotment will be in addition to the $668,000 that Harney County will receive annually.
Additionally, $5 million will be divided among Oregon’s 160 cities with populations lower than 5,000.
Bentz said Burns and Hines will each be able to access $75,000 every third year, as opposed to $50,000 every ten years.
The allotment is in addition to the $71,000 that Burns will receive annually, and the $39,000 that Hines will receive each year.
The package will raise the gas tax by $0.10 over the course of seven years.
The tax is currently at $0.30 per gallon, which equates to about $153 annually for the average Oregonian.
Title fees will increase $24, and registration fees will increase $20 over a five-year period.
“We have the lowest registration fee in the nation right now,” Bentz said. “And when we add the $20, it will probably still be the lowest.”
The package also includes a fee for electric and high-mileage vehicles.
“Believe it or not, a Prius and a three-quarter-ton pickup truck each use the road, when it comes to wear and tear, the same amount,” Bentz said. “But the Prius is paying about a third of what the pickup truck is paying [at the pump], so we got this put in place.”
There will also be an employee payroll tax of $0.39 per week for transit, a new light vehicle dealer privilege tax of 0.5 percent on new cars, and a $15 flat fee for each adult bicycle that costs $200 or more.
In addition to the transportation package, Bentz discussed mining, water issues, economic development, and the next legislative session.
The court discussed Ordinance 2017-79 (the Harney County Ambulance Service Providers Ordinance) with Jeff Sceirine of Harney District Hospital Emergency Medical Services.
The ordinance establishes Ambulance Service Areas, methods of selecting ambulance providers for each service area, and the Harney County Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee.
Sceirine explained that the ordinance has been in place for more than 20 years, but it’s outdated and nonfunctional.
“That’s why I approached [Harney County] Judge [Pete] Runnels and asked him if I could redraft this ordinance, update it with the current statutes, as well as modify it so that it was more functional to our county,” Sceirine said.
After some additional discussion, the court agreed to approve the ordinance.
Runnels discussed the MASA Medical Transport Solutions program, which covers a portion of the bill for ground and air emergency transportation services. Employees can opt into the program for an annual payroll deduction of $99.
The court agreed to approve the service for Harney County employees.
In other business, the court:
• continued its conversation concerning flooding in Harney County.
Runnels reported that a drone was flown over the river between Highway 20 and Highway 78 to pinpoint cleanup areas. He added that the river will also be “beefed up” in a couple places.
The next meeting regarding flood issues will be held Sept. 19. Self-insurance will be a topic of discussion;
• approved Walt Harder’s application for an approach off of Lottery Lane;
• upon recommendation by County Librarian Cheryl Hancock, appointed Barbara Skillman to the Harney County Library Advisory Board. Skillman, who is a retired library employee, will serve a four-year term beginning July 1, 2017 and ending June 30, 2021;
• received a report from Harney County Emergency Manager H. Paul Gray.
Gray discussed the recent solar eclipse, noting that some of the county’s smaller gas stations and restaurants ran out of fuel and supplies.
The Harney County Sheriff’s Department estimated that 50,000 vehicles passed through the county on the day of the eclipse. Gray said Oregon Department of Transportation was unavailable to assist with traffic control, so Burns police officers and a sheriff’s deputy directed traffic.
He also reported that there was a hit-and-run incident on Highway 395.
“Luckily, because of all the traffic, the person who hit them was only 16 cars ahead by the time our sheriffs got out there, and they were able to get him and arrest him,” Gray said.
“We were prepared for the worst. Obviously, we didn’t need it, but I think we were in good shape,” Runnels added;
• reviewed water use requests;
• received correspondence from the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding two mining Plans of Operations from mining claim holders near Eagle Butte. The mining areas are adjacent to each other and cover approximately 29 acres in Harney County;
• will hold rural work session meetings in October.
All meetings will be from 5:30-7 p.m. The Drewsey meeting will be held Oct. 2, the Crane/Princeton meeting will be held Oct. 3 in Crane, the Fields meeting will be Oct. 10, the Riley meeting will be Oct. 19, and the Frenchglen/Diamond meeting will be held in Frenchglen Oct. 23. The exact locations of these meetings have yet to be announced.
Additionally, Matt Obradovich, district biologist for the Burns BLM, will discuss sage grouse triggers during a work session on Oct. 11 at 5:15 p.m. The location of this work session is yet to be announced;
• learned from Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens that the next community-based water planning meeting will be held Sept. 20, from 5-8 p.m. at the Harney County Community Center.
Martha Pagel, a former water resource department employee and current water law attorney, and Lynn Tominaga, a groundwater associate director in Idaho, will be in attendance.
The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. in Runnels’ office at the courthouse.