New road district could win JoCo $600K

On Aug. 23, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners held the first of two public hearings on a proposed road service district during their weekly business session at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
“The board adopted a board order July 19, 2023 to initiate formation of the Josephine County Road Service District,” recounted JoCo Assistant Legal Counsel Allison Smith. “The purpose of this hearing is as follows: First, to state the board’s proposal to form the Josephine County Road Service District; to allow public comment orally or in writing from all interested persons; third, to determine whether the area proposed for the district could be benefited by the formation of the district; and finally, to establish the boundary of the district.
“The proposed boundary of the district would be all of Josephine County including both the city of Grants Pass and the city of Cave Junction and there would be no permanent tax rate limit attached to this district. The governing body of the district would be the Josephine County Board of Commissioners.”
After her brief summary of the district, Smith turned the mic over to JoCo Public Works Director Rob Brandes, who explained that the rationale behind the road district is a “theory” that establishing it will net the county more federal PILT dollars.
Currently, Brandes elaborated, JoCo receives $600,000 in SRS payments from the federal government, and is allotted $1.9 million in PILT payments, which the county receives for federal land within JoCo. However, the federal government retracts $600,000 of that $1.9 million figure due to the earlier SRS payments.
By creating a road service district and having the SRS payment go there rather than directly to Public Works, Brandes believes the county would receive the $1.9 million PILT in full.
“I’m hedging here, as you know, because we do not know if this will work,” Brandes admitted. “There’s about four counties that are in the same spot… The theory was there’s no harm in trying.”
If the legal maneuver does not yield the desired result, Brandes said he would immediately request the county dissolve the road district, as it would serve no other purpose.
“There will be no taxes associated with it,” the Public Works director reiterated. “From an outside perspective citizens would not even know it exists. It will not change our maintenance, it would not change our schedule or our timing of how we maintain roads and why we maintain roads.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung acknowledged that the county would benefit from an extra $600,000 in its general fund, and while he did not specify where it would go, anyone who has followed county politics recently knows the board is aggressively pursuing any avenue to secure more funding for sheriff patrols.
Both DeYoung and Commissioner John West stressed for the audience that the formation of the road district would not result in any financial repercussions for the citizens of Josephine County. DeYoung pointed out that even if future commissioners desired to attach a tax rate to the district, they would not be able to do so without the consent of voters.
For his part, Brandes said his department could use increased funds, “but I don’t feel that a road district is the appropriate mechanism to get there. That needs to come from the greater state of Oregon, if they decided they wanted to raise gas tax or something like that.”
Both attending commissioners, West and DeYoung, voted 2-0 to advance the district to a second and final hearing 9 a.m. Sept. 13 at the Anne G. Basker Auditorium.