ODA seeks higher crop board fees

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Legislative actions, fewer funds may leave commissions to pick up bigger tab

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

SALEM -- The Oregon Department of Agriculture is proposing to increase commodity commission oversight fees, in some cases as much as 180 percent, to compensate for a loss of general funds in its budget.

The state's largest commissions, representing wheat and dairy, could see oversight fees increase from $12,500, the current cap, to $35,000 under the proposed cap.

Oversight fees for the beef, sweet cherry and potato commissions all would exceed $24,000 under the new schedule.

The minimum oversight fee, under the proposal, would increase from $500 to $750 for commissions like alfalfa and sheep that generate less than $30,000 in annual assessment income.

Lawmakers propose to eliminate general fund support for commodity commissions in the 2011-13 state budget. The proposal follows a decline from nearly $95,000 in general fund support in 2008 to under $40,000 last year.

Total annual revenue generated by the fee increase would be $250,000, double the department's current revenue from oversight fees. The department's operating budget for the oversight program would increase from about $225,000 this current biennium to approximately $250,000, under the proposal.

Bryan Ostlund, administrator of six commodity commissions, said commission members he's talked to are OK with the increase.

"They'd prefer not to see it go up that much, but there aren't a lot of options," Ostlund said. "To maintain the commission system, we recognize that oversight by the Department of Agriculture is very important."

The Oregon Wheat Commission is considering asking the department to scale back its fee from the proposed $35,000 to between $25,000 and $30,000, according to Tom Duyck, commission chairman.

The department conducts a variety of services for commodity commissions, said Dalton Hobbs, an assistant director for the department.

"But," he said, "at the end of the day, the underlying principle for having the oversight is commissions need active and meaningful government oversight to be able to collect mandatory assessments."

Government oversight protects commissions from freedom of speech violations under government-speech provisions of the First Amendment.

As part of its oversight, ODA reviews promotional campaigns to ensure materials are not disparaging to another commodity or person. The department also appoints new commissioners and provides management oversight for commission employees, Hobbs said.

The state's 25 commissions have roughly 40 employees, Hobbs said.

Hobbs said the proposal to increase fees was developed by an advisory committee, with representation from several commodities.

The proposal will be up for public comment at an administrative rule hearing at 3 p.m. April 26 in the basement hearing room at ODA headquarters in Salem.

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