Local government

Any legislative rescue of reload center wouldn’t deliver cash for months, officials say

Legislators likely won’t decide until June whether to award more funding to the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

Even if they say yes, the money won’t flow for months.

The Malheur County Court recently asked the Oregon Legislature for $8.5 million more to finish the Nyssa rail center.

The money is needed to put the center into operation, scheduled for this fall. The money will buy equipment and furnishings for the warehouse, finish rail lines, and provide other core needs before onions can move.

Project leaders intend to restart construction soon with the money they do have.

With the new request, a project unveiled in 2017 to cost $26 million will exceed $40 million.

The request for more money will head first to the Legislature’s Capital Construction Subcommittee. State Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, who co-chairs the subcommittee, and Walt Campbell, a CPA and fiscal analyst in the Legislative Fiscal Office, explained in recent interviews the path ahead.

Girod said the subcommittee and its staff evaluate each request. He said he expects priority to go to local sewer and water projects, especially those that open the way for more housing.

Projects ready to launch get priority and the requests have to be justified and “not just a number they picked out of the sky,” he said.

The subcommittee then holds public hearings but those testifying typically get no more than three minutes.

That means lobbying for a project is done more often in writing and with face-to-face meetings with legislators. Girod said he is already being lobbied to support the Nyssa project.

Malheur County supporters, however, will get a rare opportunity to pitch the case for the reload center in April. The full legislative budget-writing committee will hold a hearing in Ontario on April 28. State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, serves on the committee, as does state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, who until recently was managing the Nyssa rail center construction.

If legislators favor a project, they then have to decide where to get the money.

That funding could come immediately but more likely any approval won’t be evident until late May or June.

One source of money would be the general fund, the mainstay of state government. That’s cash in the government’s till that comes primarily from income tax collections.

Legislators could decide to immediately approve the Nyssa funding and award the money. That would be the fastest way to help Malheur County. It’s also a move rarely used.

“Do I think we’ll do it? No,” said Girod.

That general fund could also be tapped later in the legislative session. Legislative leaders typically pull together projects that will get such money into one place. That legislation, though, usually passes in the final days of a legislative session. This year, legislators must finish their work by the end of June.

Girod and Campbell said even if the Malheur County project made it to that list, the process of delivering the money could take months.

A more likely source is money raised by selling state bonds. Much of the original state funding for the Treasure Valley Reload Center came from lottery bonds sold in 2019. The bonds essentially are a loan taken out by the state repaid by gambling proceeds taken in by the Oregon Lottery.

“Every legislator has the opportunity to submit requests,” Girod said.

But the pace of selling bonds means any money budgeted for the Treasure Valley Reload Center wouldn’t become available for two years.

That means the Malheur County Development Corp. will need money in the meantime to keep construction going for a fall finish. Project leaders say they are considering borrowing the money, but they haven’t devised a plan for doing so.

They currently use short-term bank lending for paying some construction bills, with Malheur County covering interest costs.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].


YOUR GUIDE: What is the Treasure Valley Reload Center?

A ‘pivot’ for Nyssa reload project: Court asking legislators for $8.5 million to finish the job

Request to state for help grows as Smith walks away from Nyssa rail project

Short of money, rail managers ask contractors to hold onto bills for work already done

SPECIAL REPORT: Another state bailout for Nyssa rail project in the works

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