Guest commentary: Citizens shut out on major county decision

There’s another way to describe the outcome of Yamhill County’s new Strategic Investment Program with Hampton Lumber: It’s going to cost the county $12 million to $14 million over the next 15 years.

The county commissioners held a public hearing on the SIP with barely 24 hours of notice even to directly affected taxing districts. The hearing was not published on the county’s website, beyond embedding in the agenda and 300-page packet for their weekly board meeting.

The published agenda gave no direction for submission of public comment, other than in person. And because the hearing was part of the weekly board meeting, there was no clear start time to plan around, even assuming one could simply drop everything to appear in person sometime after 10 a.m. on a Thursday.

Had taxpayers somehow managed to find out about the hearing and show up in person, they would have found it very difficult to submit meaningful public comment. That’s because the packet included only the proposed contract, without any information regarding impact to the county or other taxing districts.

The total cost of the agreement was finally mentioned during the hearing — an hour after public comment had closed. While much time was spent focused on “making taxing districts whole,” I heard no discussion of how to manage the potential impact to the county budget itself.

I recognize Hampton is a valuable local employer with strong history in this county. But there are a few facts that should have been more thoroughly considered in public:

1) Hampton is already building the mill in question. It is in progress. This is not a situation where we are foregoing tax revenues to lure a new business to invest locally.

2) The language of the contract promises retention of “181 full-time jobs,” but Hampton employs around 250 people in Willamina now, and the modernized mill will run with one less shift. That means about 70 workers stand to lose their jobs. I heard no discussion of how to minimize the impact of this job loss to county residents.

3) Across the board, county departments were asked to cut budgets this year. Commissioners pressed Sheriff Tim Svenson this month on the cost of three deputies needed to improve jail safety for a price tag of $428,000. That’s only half the annual impact of the SIP.

The county’s 2023-24 Budget forecasts $28 million in property tax revenue, which means the SIP represents a loss equal to 4% of the total county tax revenues.

Yamhill County residents deserved more opportunity to understand the implications of this decision before it was made. I am extremely disappointed in our commissioners for proceeding to a vote so quickly with so little transparency.

Megan Corvus is a Gaston resident who maintains an active involvement in political, public policy and private nonprofit initiatives in Yamhill County.



A similar lack of logic as was used when Waste Management’s county fee payments were reduced in 2021(?). Then they closed the landfill a few months later.
I wonder if our commission understands that they represent the taxpayers…?