Millions to be available to schools, other projects

The Washington County Commission seemed eager to commit a significant portion of its future Gain Share funds to schools and public safety projects on Tuesday.

The commissioners reviewed spending priorities for nearly $90 million it expects to receive from the state over the next five years during a morning work session. Several members talked about the need to pledge $5 million a year to school districts in the county and begin earthquake upgrades of county buildings as soon as possible. Their goal was to convince future sessions of the Oregon Legislature to continue the revenue sharing program by showing the money is needed for critical programs and projects.

“We need to show the good causes we’re funding with the money now, instead of what we’re planning to do with it. Otherwise it could go away,” Commissioner Roy Rogers said.

Other projects discussed by the commissioners included a new Events Center at the Washington County Fairgrounds, new bicycle and sidewalk connections throughout the county, construction funds for the proposed Aloha Community Library and a matching grant for the Washington County Museum.

But Rogers and the other commission members repeatedly stressed the importance of some of the proposed projects because of attempts to reduce the county’s Gain Share funds during the 2013 Oregon Legislature. Even before the start of the session, Senate Finance and Revenue Chairwoman Ginny Burdick said the program was estimated to cost the state far more than originally projected and should be cut back. The budget proposed by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber set aside less than half the funds estimated to be returned to local governments over the next two years. And during the session, State Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) and State Rep. Joe Gallegos (D-Hillsboro) pushed to dedicate 40 percent of the local government payments to school districts.

Washington County and Hillsboro officials aggressively defended the program as a promise made by the state to its local partners, however. The county and city defused the effort by Unger and Gallegos by promising to each pay school districts in the county $5 million from Gain Share revenues over the next two years. In the end, the Legislature did not change the laws governing the program and fully funded it.

The Beaverton School District was one of seven districts in the county to benefit from the program. The Beaverton School Board decided last week to use its $2.3 million portion of Gain Share funds to add back one of four days cut from the 2013-14 school year and the remainder to return more teachers to the classroom, bringing down class sizes.

Gain Share is a part of the state’s longstanding Strategic Investment Program, which allows local governments to waive a portion of their property taxes on qualifying businesses to create and save jobs. Created by the 2007 Oregon Legislature, Gain Share pays the local governments 50 percent of the additional state income taxes generated by the new and retained jobs. Washington County governments are the biggest recipient of Gain Share funds, primarily because of the large expansions by Intel, its biggest employer.

Washington County received its first Gain Share check for $12.5 million during the session. After distributing proportional amounts to other local governments, the county was left with around $7 million. The county received its second check for approximately $23 million last Friday. After sending $5 million to the schools and reimbursing the governments, it expects to keep approximately $11.4 million this year.

That number is projected to grow to $89.7 million at the end of five years — if future legislatures do not change the program. Commissioners agreed to check their schedules and plan another meeting on potential Gain Share projects in the near future.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine