Loss of general funds lead to increase in oversight costs
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- With a couple of exceptions, commodity commission representatives said they support commission oversight fee increases that in some cases could reach 280 percent.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture proposes to increase commodity commission oversight fees to offset a reduction in general funds in its budget.
Under the proposed fee increases, commission oversight would be fully funded by fees beginning with the 2011-13 biennium. Currently, general funds pay about half the program costs.
In a hearing April 26, several commission representatives said they believe general funds should continue to go toward program costs. But because lawmakers have reduced ODA's general fund budget by more than 40 percent over the last decade, they were willing to cover the costs.
"I know there is grumbling in the industry," said Nels Iverson, chairman of the Oregon Potato Commission. "But we recognize the necessity of the department's oversight. You don't want to get sideways with the legal system."
The potato commission will pay approximately $25,000 for oversight under the proposed schedule, a 100 percent increase from the commission's current $12,500 fee.
Dana Branson, administrator of the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission, said cherry growers also reluctantly support the increase, despite an added $20,000 in oversight costs.
"That $20,000 is the equivalent of one more research project for the spotted wing drosophila or the brown marmorated stink bug," Branson said.
The cherry commission's fee would go from approximately $9,000 this year to approximately $29,000 next year under the proposed schedule.
Branson, like others, asked the department to look for cost savings and improved efficiencies.
Bryan Ostlund said members of the six commissions he administers gave their support.
"Nobody likes a fee increase, and they certainly would not like the increase to be as high as it is," he said, but the commissioners recognized the value of the oversight.
Several commission representatives also objected to the method the department used to develop its proposal. The proposal came out of an advisory committee that met twice over the last year to discuss the issue.
Several said they didn't believe their voices were heard in the process.
Only the Oregon Wheat Commission spoke out against the increase. Chairman Tom Duyck said the commission would not object to paying 50 percent more or even twice as much as its current $12,500 oversight fee. But the commission objected to shouldering a 280 percent increase.
The department proposes to increase the wheat commission and dairy products commission oversight from the current cap of $12,500 to the new cap of $35,000.
Ron Hurliman, chairman of the Oregon Dairy Products Commission, said the commission did not take a stance on the issue, but he testified against the increase.