Senior center program seeks to aid those on unemployment

By Randy Parks
Burns Times-Herald

Harney County residents who are on unemployment insurance and having trouble making mortgage payments may find assistance through a program offered at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center.

Community in Action (CinA) Executive Director Barb Higgenbotham told the county court at their meeting Wednesday, March 7, that the county has 80 available slots through the Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Initiative (OHSI).

Higgenbotham reported that 20 households in the county received mortgage payment assistance through the program initially, and now more funds are available for residents who are on unemployment insurance. “We need to get the word out as we’re looking for people to fill those 80 slots,” Higgenbotham said.

She added that residents will have to meet the criteria for assistance and are urged to apply at the senior center.

Higgenbotham also reviewed the low-income energy assistance and weatherization programs, and reported Kelly Everhart had been hired to fill the position previously held by Peggy Yarbor.

Howard Weathers met with the court to discuss the “Woodstove Change Out Program” offered through the senior center. Weathers said the program replaced 70 old wood stoves, pellet stoves or furnaces in the Burns-Hines area, with most replacements purchased locally and most of the work done by local contractors.
Weathers stated that the final inspections had been completed and the program had been officially closed-out.

County Judge Steve Grasty and Commissioner Dan Nichols gave an update on their trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference March 3-6.

Grasty stated that they had been forewarned that with Oregon counties struggling financially, staff would probably be asking them how they could afford to attend. “My answer to them was, ‘How can we afford not to?’ It’s about what we keep them from doing to us by being there,” Grasty said.

As far as federal funding, Grasty said he got the feeling that the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments would be renewed for one more year and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) would be funded as before.

Grasty pointed out that the SRS funding came about because of a loss of revenue to counties from the decline in the timber industry, but with better forest management, the jobs would be there and counties wouldn’t need the SRS funds.

The court held a lengthy discussion regarding “roadless areas” in Harney County and the importance of starting a process to identify the entire road system.

As far as determining a “road,” Nichols said, “If it provides an access, we should consider it a road.”

The court agreed that there are a number of roads that provided access previously, but are now tough to point out. “That doesn’t mean that it’s no longer a road,” Grasty said. “The intent of this process is to recognize a system of roads so in later years people have records and can say, ‘There is a history of a road here.’ It’s about protecting the roads we have and their importance to ranching and logging.”

Because the task of identifying every road in the county could be daunting, the court agreed they would look to residents for input.

In other business:

• Harney County Commission on Children and Families (CCF) Director Teri Cain gave a report on the changes coming because of House Bill 4165-B that passed on March 5. The bill abolishes the CCF as a state entity as of June 30, and transfers the duties from the commission to the Early Learning Council for children 0-6, and to the Youth Development Council for school-aged youth through age 20.

In her report, Cain also said that the county will need to determine the direction to take regarding a proposed structure for “hubs” or community-based coordinators of early learning services: to go it alone as a county and/or who to partner with for a “region” for service delivery.

The court felt if the county goes the “hub” route, the “hub” needs to be in Harney County;

• the court appointed Dr. Sharon King the official county health officer, replacing Dr. Scott Spence who will be leaving the community in the near future;

• the court approved an intergovernmental agreement between Harney and Grant counties for licensing inspection and enforcement of public facilities;

• the court reviewed the Jackson County Federal Coordination Policy Compact to see if it was something that Harney County might be interested in setting up. The court agreed to have legal counsel look it over and then make a recommendation;

• the court discussed the Integrated Water Resources Strategy released by the state last year and expressed their main concerns. The court decided to invite the Water Resource Council to attend a meeting and explain what the document would mean to residents.

The next county court meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 21, at the courthouse.

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