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Yuba County forest funds in jeopardy

The latest hit to budgets in Yuba County this year could be a matter of the federal government not seeing the forest for the fees.

If a 12-year-old program to shift a portion of timber fees to county government and school districts isn't somehow continued, the amount both receive in Yuba County is likely to shrink, providing another headache during austere fiscal times.

In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which stipulated a stable amount of money go each year to counties where there's timber harvesting, to make up for losses from tax-exempt national forest lands.

The majority of the money was split equally between county governments and schools, with the rest for national forest projects and emergency rescues.

But because the program lapsed last year, the system will revert to a previous formula next year under which all counties — whether with timber logging or not — receive a percentage of timber fees.

As it is, the amount of money the counties have received has shrunk in recent years as demand for timber dropped because of the global economic downturn. Scotia Sanchez, Yuba County's superintendent of schools, said her office received about $60,000 during this fiscal year under the program, down from about $95,000 three years earlier.

Yuba County projected receiving $68,850 for 2011-12, but the exact amount received was not available. Such money is intended for road repairs.

Though a relatively small percentage of the $6.8 million the county Office of Education received in overall federal money this year, she said, it's still significant when state revenues have also been down.

"Between state deferrals approaching 40 percent annually, literally every dollar less that comes to school districts is felt at this point," Sanchez said. About 15 percent of the money stays with her office, she said, and the rest goes to districts with forested areas, such as Marysville Joint Unified, Camptonville Union and Yuba College.

According to the California State Association of Counties, legislative efforts are under way in Washington to keep the program going, though they've foundered over differences between Democrats and Republicans on how much logging the program should allow.

"If Congress fails to extend or reauthorize the program in a timely manner, layoff notices for rural school teachers and road department personnel are a very real possibility," CSAC officials wrote in a bulletin to members sent earlier this month.

CONTACT Ben van der Meer at bvandermeer@appealdemocrat.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.


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