Commissioners – 2/1/23 – Cutting Off Nose to Spite Face

“We are not an island,” said Valarie Lovelace.

“Think about what important agencies have silent constituencies,” said Pat Fahey.

These were comments from the public after Josephine County Commissioners hinted they may not participate in Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. (SOREDI) https://soredi.org/ this year. After a similar presentation last spring, Commissioners Dan DeYoung and Herman Baertschiger expressed displeasure with SOREDI for not coming to the aid of Travis Boersma’s Flying Lark, a “racino” designed to support horseracing in Grants Pass. The Flying Lark remains closed after the state determined the betting machines Boersma wanted in the business would classify it as a casino, which are only allowed on tribal lands in Oregon.

SOREDI is a non-profit agency launched in 1987 that works to bring large and small businesses to Josephine and Jackson counties, help those businesses get started then support and help those businesses grow. SOREDI is also able to administer federal grants, such as COVID funds provided to help businesses during the pandemic shutdown. SOREDI is financially supported by communities within its administrative area as well as Chambers of Commerce and sponsors like AllCare Health and US Bank. This support makes it possible for SOREDI to offer a range of complimentary services to businesses willing to locate here, from information about the region to hand-holding through permit processes and filings at the county Assessors’ Office.

“Our primary work is developing and maintaining relationships with businesses through regular outreach to uncover unmet needs and assisting with growth plans to create new jobs and investments in communities of their choice,” said SOREDI Executive Director Colleen Padilla during a PowerPoint presentation at the Feb. 1 Commissioners’ Business meeting. The presentation was mainly for new Commissioner John West since Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger and Commissioner Dan DeYoung know SOREDI well.

Padilla said since 1998 they have helped with $552,192,629 new capital investments which resulted in 13,652 jobs. Some businesses SOREDI has helped include AllCare, Ausland Group, Duro-Last Roofing, Rogue Truck Body, Taylor’s Sausage, Master Brand Cabinets, Timber Products, Fire Mountain Gems, Weekend Beer Company and Playcraft. They are currently helping with grants in areas impacted by fire damage to help businesses rebuild.

West said he’s had “a ton of pushback” because the county spends money to help support SOREDI but they didn’t help the horseracing business in Grants Pass. Padilla has informed the county in the past that SOREDI is a 501c4 non-profit and is prohibited by law from assisting casinos. West also said he’s hearing from people who say “they feel like businesses are going to Jackson County more than are coming to Josephine County and that maybe our county’s bein’ passed by and Jackson County’s gittin’ the businesses. So you know, I have to answer to um, what’s going on there?”

Padilla explained that SOREDI doesn’t direct any business to a specific community. It’s up to the business to select the best place for them in the region. She also pointed out that 17 percent of the workforce in Josephine County commutes to Jackson County while 5.5 percent of the workforce in Jackson County drives to Josephine County to work. There are also about 100 employees who live in Siskiyou County in California who commute to Jackson County for employment, she said.

Baertschiger said the Board’s problem is they have to prioritize spending right now because “our citizens say they don’t like taxes,” so they are prioritizing the Sheriff, “given the fact that after what we just seen happen with marijuana and this madman running around that puts the spotlight on how important public safety is. If it’s not safe we’re not gonna have tourism. Mexico is a good example of that. I want everyone to know we are prioritizing the sheriff’s office.”

DeYoung said he’s not going to invite any business to move to Josephine County if it isn’t safe so they are looking at cutting everything, from dues, travel expenses, subscriptions, remodeling, everything they can put back in the general fund to use for law enforcement.

Padilla said she understood and SOREDI will still maintain contacts in Josephine County if the Board decides, in spite of being one of the founding members of the organization, to stop funding it while working through a tough financial situation.

Also making a presentation was the Rogue Valley Council of Government (RVCOG) https://rvcog.org/ which oversees a variety of services from meals for senior citizens to a wildfire alert system. Like SOREDI it gets funding from municipalities and sponsors. Commissioners, realizing the importance of senior services in Josephine County, didn’t have much to say except “thank you for your lengthy presentation.”

During Public Comments addressing SOREDI, Lovelace warned the Board not to be shortsighted because so much grant funding comes through organizations like SOREDI. Partnerships are really important, she said, for many organizations. Addressing concerns about Josephine getting passed over for Jackson County, “We are not an island,” she said because the concept of “one Rogue Valley” is important for economic development as well as “combating what is up north” with combined power. “Think about long-term investment,” she said.  Fahey said he realizes the Board has a “rough job” but asked Commissioners to be cautious when thinking about cutting off important agencies “that have silent constituencies.”

“As you make deliberations, which I do not envy, it’s tough, think about the people who aren’t in front of you and how they are affected,” said Fahey.

Other comments were from a member of Partners Assisting the Homeless (PATH) reminding Commissioners PATH is a grassroots task force that is not political and that Baertschiger’s contention that the homeless don’t want help is contrary to what they are finding out. Two speakers asked Commissioners to keep the airport funded. One refuted Baertschiger’s claim the Grants Pass Airport was just for hobbyists. He said it is very important during fire season and for medical flights.

Mark Jones said community safety also includes fire and ambulances, while Bill Hunker chided the Commission for saying it will be up to a citizens group now to provide a funding source for the sheriff. He contends the jail/juvenile levy has “hobbled” the sheriff’s department. “It’s time for courageous leadership from our elected officials. Do not expect citizen groups to salvage what the sheriff and Commissioners are unable to manage. Citizens don’t fund what they don’t trust,” said Hunker.

A woman took to the podium to complain because of an illegal culvert her property on Lower River Road gets flooded. The last speaker was Rebecca Anderson, a county resident who owns property in the city.

“I would really like to see better cooperation between the county and the city. I live in the county. I own property in the city (an AirB&B). I’m on the tourism board. I see the people (tourists) who come here and get to know them. Sometimes they stay overnight, sometimes for a couple of days. Our bookings are within a 300 mile range. They come here to go to Crater Lake, the Coast, the rivers, the wineries. One thing I’ll tell you is, being conscious of expenses is important and creating new income streams is important.” One new income stream would be Dollar Mountain, which could become part of a mountain bike adventure, said Anderson, who urged the Commission to help with that development. The Commission has been reluctant to part with a piece of property needed by the City of Grants Pass to complete a trail on Dollar Mountain.

Other than DeYoung’s rant about how bicycle tourists don’t spend money here and how the county got cheated out of a lodging tax by the City of Grants Pass the rest of the Commissioner responses were cut off at the end of the long meeting.

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