Grant County opposes governor’s proposed cuts to veteran funding

Jeff Wilcox, Grant County's new Veteran Services Officer, stands for a photo Monday, Jan. 9.

Grant County Court members unanimously agreed to oppose cuts to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs included in Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget.

County Judge Scott Myers said the court signed a resolution created by the Association of Oregon Counties in opposition to cuts to the ODVA to ensure services for veterans in the county received funding.

After 84 percent of voters approved Measure 96, which allocated 1.5 percent of state lottery funds to serve veterans, Brown approved cuts from the department’s budget from the general fund for 2017-19.

The ODVA is expected to receive almost $18 million in lottery funds but lose roughly $10 million from the state’s general fund. Under the proposed budget, the department will see a $93 million increase overall compared to the 2015-17 budget and would add four jobs.

The upcoming biennium’s budget will increase to about $512 million from about $419 million in 2015-17 with the majority of funding coming from other sources, including veteran loan repayments, bond fees and Medicare/Medicaid compensations.

Myers said he was concerned Brown was going back on promises to fund veteran services and didn’t want to see them lose $10 million in potential funding.

Of the roughly 7,200 residents in Grant County, more than 10 percent are veterans — 809, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Association of Oregon Counties said Measure 96 was intended to strengthen funding for veterans, not back-fill budget cuts.

“A reduction in general fund support for Oregon’s veterans would not honor the will of the voters,” the AOC said in the resolution.

Grant County Veteran Service Officer Jeff Wilcox said the overall increase in funding was a step in the right direction, but the county needed to have plans in place for when the money was allocated.

He said he was a big supporter of John Day City Manager Nick Green’s proposed hydroponic wastewater treatment plant and housing plan. He thought the wastewater plant could offer job opportunities for vets and called it a “winner for Grant County.”

Wilcox also said the housing plan, which focuses on offering a range of housing opportunities, would be an effective way to provide homes for veterans.

To better serve veterans, he said the veteran service officer position in Grant County would need to be changed from part time to full time.

Wilcox fears funding will be insufficient for the high percentage of veterans in the county. He compared state funds for veterans to a leaking bucket carried from west to east with little left in the bucket when it reached Grant County.

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