Commissioners hope to ease economic drought in Klamath County

Klamath Falls, Ore. – Drought conditions and a tribal water ‘call’ are having an economic impact on the Klamath Basin – but the county is taking steps to help provide tax relief to farmers and ranchers.

NBC5 News did a story in late May about Bly rancher Butch Hadley, who sold his cattle since he’s unable to irrigate his pasture to feed them.

Hadley mentioned that one of his concerns was about property taxes.

“They don’t lower property taxes – they just raise them.”  Noted Hadley.  “And it doesn’t seem to matter if this went from being worth quite a bit, to nothing.”

But, Klamath County is working on becoming the first county in the state to re-assess those property values.

“The approach that we’re going to use is an income approach.”  Explains Klamath County Assessor Nathan Bigby.  “Obviously, the farmers are going to have less income on their yields and stuff this year – we’re going to adjust values based on that.”

Bigby says it’s unclear what percentage of tax relief farmers may receive.  “We’re still in the middle of our research, and until the end of the season, we won’t have all of the data collected.”

That could result in a loss of as much as $400,000 in tax revenue to the county.

Drought conditions, and a Tribal ‘call’ have triggered regulations on the use of well water.

Chiloquin and Bly rely on wells for water – and emergency regulations currently allow water only for drinking and cleaning.

Klamath Tribal Chairman Don Gentry stresses it’s the state of Oregon making those restrictions, not the Tribe.

“We basically make the call, which is a proactive process, and make sure that regulation is occurring, to satisfy our in-stream water flows.”  Chairman Gentry stated.  “And the state regulates from that point.”

County Commissioners estimate the drought could cost the Klamath Basin a half a billion dollars.

But, Chairman Gentry argues that if endangered fish go extinct, no amount of money will bring them back.  “We believe that we need to be doing everything that’s humanly possible to protect those fish from going extinct – because they’re on such a poor trajectory.”

It’s estimated that nearly 500 square miles of agricultural land in Klamath County could see a change in their assessed value due to losses from drought.


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