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County's timber revenues will skyrocket

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Commissioners wary of funding projections

TELL CITY - Money going into county coffers from sales of Hoosier National Forest timber will increase dramatically under a new system, but county commissioners were wary about accepting it.

Speaking at a regular commissioners' meeting Nov. 3, County Auditor Connie Berger said she'd received a letter from the federal Agriculture Department explaining the change. Under a law the president signed Oct. 3, the county now has an option to receive state payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act and Community Self-Determination Act.

Under the current system, the county is paid 25 percent of timber-sales revenues, which this year meant $38,000. If the commissioners chose to remain with that option in 2009, the county would get $2,155. The new funding method would net $102,969

"Any time you get over $100,000," Berger said in explaining rules for the new system, "you have to designate 15 to 20 percent into a Title 3 project fund." Money there can be used for search-and-rescue, emergency services, community-service work camps, fire-related education opportunities and fire-prevention-related county planning, she explained.

If the commissioners opted to put 15 percent of next year's funding into the Title 3 fund, the highway department would still get $87,000, she added. Amounts under $100,000 all go to the highway department.

The amounts will decrease each subsequent year, Berger said, with Perry County projected to receive $92,000 in 2009. In 2010, the county will get $83,000, and $75,000 is expected in 2011, the last year specified in the law.

"They already know how many trees they're going to cut down in 2011?" Commissioner Jody Fortwendel asked.

Berger couldn't answer that.

Commissioner Don Sherry questioned the math.

"If we were getting 25 percent of the sale price of the timber that was removed from the county," he said, "and they're going to send us a hundred-some thousand dollars, doesn't that add up to they're going to remove close to half a million dollars' worth of timber?"

If Perry County was projected to receive only $2,000 next year under the old formula, "they're only planning on taking about 10 to 12 trees out?" he asked, eliciting laughter before adding he didn't understand "that miniscule number." He was also suspicious of a Nov. 14 deadline Berger mentioned next.

"If they're trying to get us to sign this quickly, is it possible that maybe our 25 percent would be more than $102,000?" he asked.

Not according to what a state auditor's representative told her, Berger said. Next year's timber revenue would be the $2,000, versus this year's $38,000.

Commissioner Gary Dauby said the amount of timber to be removed is consistently planned, and only pine is removed, not hardwoods.

For years beyond 2011, the law will have to be reauthorized for payments to continue.

Berger said the commissioners needed to certify that they opted to receive payments under the act and determine what percentage they wanted to place in the Title 3 projects fund.

"The more you place into that, the less the highway department will receive," she noted.

"Do we know anything about any other entities getting this money?" Goffinet asked. "It looks like the state gets an allocation, and we're getting a share of that allocation."

Berger said she hadn't heard anything about others' payments.

The commissioners opted to receive funds under the new law and put 15 percent into a Title 3 fund.