JOHN DAY - State politicians heard a range of deep-seated concerns from constituents at a town hall meeting last Thursday, Nov. 3.
"Thanks for coming on a challenging evening," said Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), alluding to the snow falling outside the meeting. The session, held at Old West Federal Credit Union, drew about 50 Grant County residents.
Joining Bentz were Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) and Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles).
A change in district boundaries was the first item of business.
At the end of 2012, Main Street in John Day will no longer be the dividing line between Huffman's District 59 and Bentz' District 60. Instead, Bentz' district will take in the entirety of the county.
By the time the change goes into effect, Huffman will have served Grant County five and a half years.
"In my estimation, you have two of the best House members to represent you," said Ferrioli. He also said the staff between the three of elected officials are "pretty much seamless."
"If there is something happening in Eastern Oregon, we hear about it within the hour," he added.
Ralph Goodwin asked why Oregon can't go back to representation by area rather than population.
"I can remember when that changed," he said.
The redistricting is done every decade to reflect population changes documented by the latest U.S. Census.
The meeting touched on many other topics, including:
Pat Holliday said that insurance requirements for Oregon contractors who do jobs under $10,000 is too high; she felt there should be an exemption for these workers. "I think it's a huge issue," she said.
Her husband Ken noted that although he's done a lot of conservation work at his John Day ranch and lots of fish are coming up the river, he still can't get some work done because of the Endangered Species Act.
Ron Greb, an Oregon State Snowmobile Association representative from Canyon City, expressed concern that due to the Ways and Means committee lowering the cost of annual Sno-Park permits from $25 to $20 that the Sno-Parks will not have the needed funds for snowplowing.
Mike Cosgrove expressed his hope that the politicians would forget their political party and "do the right thing."
The hot topic of the evening was government agencies.
Sharon Livingston complained that it seems "it's a government of the government, by the government and for the government."
She noted that agencies such as the Oregon Department of Forestry, which she said had a budget increase of 5 percent, are "very powerful" and added, "We do not have any representation from this side of the state."
The increase of the Beef Check Off fees was another point of contention for her. She said that when she and others opposed the idea, they were basically told to "shut up."
"I don't mind paying taxes if I have something to say about it - those camped out in Portland should be in Salem," Livingston said, referring to Occupy Portland protestors.
Commissioner Boyd Britton later had something to say on the subject of state agencies.
"Oregon is kind of broke," he said "How on earth would these agencies be able to consider raises?"
David Herman of Fields contended that some Division of State staffers see themselves as super legislators, yet "when pressed, they are without authority."
Huffman noted at the meeting, "We are struggling at every level to bring some sanity."
He said that earlier this year while on the Ways and Means committee he noticed that the Department of Human Services had 500 unfilled positions, even though they were claiming higher caseloads. He said that he didn't believe the positions were ever intended to be filled and called it a slush fund. He said he told them, "People can be put in prison for doing this."
He noted that Ways and Means will rake out hundreds of unfilled state positions, even beyond DHS.
"The most effective way to fix problems," said Bentz, "is to get a new boss for the director - a new governor."
Ferrioli said the financial situation is getting serious. He pointed out that Grant County has only 37 percent private land, adding "The west side has a tax base."
"Federal land base has to be contributory to the economy," he said.
Bentz added that he told U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, "Don't talk about Oregon counties failing, talk about how if the federal government isn't utilizing federal government assets, it's failing its citizens.
"There are millions of acres of timber in Oregon that could be harvested to help pay some of the obligations the government is committed to, like Medicare," he said. "We can't let assets sit idle - those days are over."