ﾑForestry Moneyﾒ forum discusses possible loss
Educators, politicians and concerned Pocahontas residents met November 8 at the Pocahontas County Opera House to discuss the status of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act funding, locally known by some as ﾓthe forestry money.ﾔ
Partnership for Rural America Campaign Manager Marc Kelley, of Santa Rosa, California, has worked on several national campaigns in the past 20 years, including the SRSCSA campaign.
Congress passed the act in 2000 to address the issue of lack of timber production coming off of national forest lands.
ﾓIt was a six year act with a stable amount of funding with a set formula that provided about $525 million a year to 662 counties in 42 states,ﾔ Kelley said.
When the act expired in 2006, Congress voted for a one-year reauthorization of funds. In 2008, Congress passed a four-year reauthorization that expired on October 1.
ﾓThe formula changed, but most importantly, so did the money,ﾔ Kelley said. ﾓInstead of being $525 million, they ramped it down by 10 percent and then for each of the four years, 2008 to 2011, it was ramped down 10 percent more per year on a nationwide basis.ﾔ
The last payment of the four-year reauthorization comes in January 2012. With the knowledge of the end coming soon, the Partnership for Rural America focused on including the southern states in the campaign efforts.
ﾓIn 2000 and 2008, it was still largely a western-driven issue and in fact, in many cases, there was more than one member of Congress who basically thought this was something for Oregon, Washington and maybe part of northern California, when the money actually goes to 42 states,ﾔ Kelley said.
Now, Congress is split on the decision to reauthorize the funding. The Senate has introduced a bill which will provide some funding, but at substantially less than $525 million.
ﾓS. 1692 basically takes last yearﾒs payment which was $364 million, ramps it down five percent each year starting this next fiscal year, and it goes down to $282 million,ﾔ Kelley said. ﾓSo from 2007 through the balance of this next authorization to fiscal year 2016, we go from $515 million to $282 million. From the Senateﾒs perspective, they consider that to be reasonable.ﾔ
The House has a working draft that does not have a number attached to it yet. According to Kelley, the House will add a revenue estimate of what the Forest Service is expected to make off of all the national forests over a five-year period.
Congress is also faced with a recommendation from the budget reduction committee to make $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Congress will vote on the issue either before Christmas or in January 2012.
Kelley suggested that everyone involved contact senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin to ask for their support on the S. 1692 bill. As of press time, neither senator has signed the bill.
Of all the counties in West Virginia receiving funding, Pocahontas County receives the most due to the amount of national forest land in the county.
ﾓOur county is made up of 604,000 acres and of that, 310,200 is owned by the US Forest Service,ﾔ Senator Walt Helmick said. ﾓSo it takes away our ability to do a number of things that we would otherwise be able to do if we had some of that land available to us now. Not to say it hasnﾒt been a wonderful experience to see it developed the way it has been over the years, but we do need to receive at least the amount we would receive if we were taxing that land.ﾔ
Marlinton Middle School teacher Chris Campbell, who is also President of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, added that the school employees are not the only people who will struggle if the bill is not passed.
ﾓWeﾒve talked about the numbers, but what weﾒre really looking at is the number of teachers and the number of people educating our students, your children,ﾔ she said. ﾓWe could stand to lose 10 professionals because of the loss of this money and weﾒre going to have to find another way to generate that money.ﾔ
This is not the first financial loss the school system has suffered.
ﾓWeﾒre also losing Title I funds and special education funds from the federal government, so this is kind of the last blow, or the most recent blow to our economic situation of the school system,ﾔ Campbell said. ﾓItﾒs coming down everywhere, but this is not the time to be cutting into education.ﾔ
The school system is not the only recipient of the funding. The WV Resource Advisory Committee stands to lose approximately $668,000. RAC serves seven counties in West Virginia with its part of the funding.
Pocahontas County RAC member Reta Griffith said the organization funds programs that benefit the seven counties and the national forest.
Griffith, Helmick and Cully McCurdy are the three representatives from Pocahontas County. RAC has funding programs including the Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force, a greenhouse program in Tucker County, reintroduction of brown trout in streams in Webster County, trail renovations in Tucker, Hardy and Pendleton counties, a fishing pier on Williams River in Webster County, rebuilding wildlife habitats, bear resistant trash cans and several programs involving law enforcement patrols.
Also participating in the forum was Pocahontas County Superintendent of Schools C.C. Lester, Delegate Bill Hartman, Pocahontas County Commission President David Fleming, Delegate Denise Campbell, Tucker County Superintendent of Schools Eddie Campbell, Pendleton County BOE Financial Director J.P. Mowery, Randolph County BOE Treasurer Brad Smith, Senator Clark Barnes and Greenbrier County BOE Treasurer David McClure.
All those participants encouraged people to send letters and emails to Rockefeller and Manchin to ask for their support.
To contact Rockefeller, send letters to 405 Capitol Street, Suite 508, Charleston, WV 25301-1749 or visit his website, rockefeller.senate.gov/public.index.cfm/ and click on the Contact Me button to send an email.
To contact Manchin, send letters to 200 Virginia Street, East, Suite 2630, Charleston, WV 25301 or visit his website at manchin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm and click on the Contact Joe button and select Contact Form to send an email.