|At a glance:||Road and bridge maintenance and construction, shop, and weed control.|
|Staff:||David Tiffany, Road Master|
|Phone:||(541) 473-5191 or (541) 473-5192|
|Postal Address:|| 251 “B” St. West, #8
Vale, OR 97918
|Location:|| 1001 Barkley Drive in Vale
In Malheur County, public roads are built and maintained by the State, the County, the incorporated Cities, the BLM, and Road Assessment Districts. The four Road Assessment Districts are special districts with taxing authority that were created for road maintenance. They are responsible for county roads within their districts, which surround Ontario, Nyssa, Juntura, and Ironside. The County Road Department is responsible for over 1000 miles of county roads lying outside of the Road Districts.
The County Road Department has its office and shop in Vale, the county seat. The Department has 13 employees that include 2 mechanics, 8 operators, 1 weed sprayer, 1 clerk, 2 foremen, and 1 roadmaster. For equipment the Department has 7 graders, 8 dump trucks, 2 backhoes, 2 loaders, 2 water trucks, 2 rollers, 1 dozer, 1 chip spreader, 1 spray truck, 8 pickups, 1 crane, and assorted other items. Two of the employees and part of the equipment reside in the Jordan Valley area.
The County Road Department is not part of the County’s General Fund and does not receive any local property taxes. The Road Department consists of four special funds: Road Fund, Major Bridge Fund, Equipment Fund, and Improvements Fund.
The Road Fund’s main revenue source is gas tax apportioned to the county by the State from the State Highway Fund. The State Highway Fund money comes from gas taxes, truck weight-mile taxes, and vehicle registration fees. Counties receive about 24 percent of the gas tax collected. The split among counties is based on number of vehicle registrations–Malheur County has about .92 percent of the state’s total. In fiscal year 2005-06 the County’s share came to $1,626,353. Approximately 50 percent of this is passed on to the road districts based on an agreement negotiated in the 1960s.
Another source of funding is called the Fund Exchange where Federal Highway dollars allocated to Oregon Counties are exchanged with money for ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) as the money from ODOT has less requirements on how it is spent. ODOT keeps 6% of the money as an administration fee. Malheur county also receives funds from the Special County Allocation, which is an additional payment from the State Highway Fund to a few of the poorer counties. The Secure Schools and Self Determination Act or PL106-393 is federal legislation that allocates money to states to replace actual timber taxes that were lost due to reduced timber harvest. Oregon is the largest recipient of this legislation that is due for re authorization in 2006. These taxes on harvested timber were dedicated to schools and county road departments. However, Malheur county has little timber and only receives about $7,000 annually for roads. In this county, PILT funds (Federal Payment In lieu of Taxes) go to the County General fund not to roads.
The Major Bridge Fund was created as a reserve in case one of the county’s larger bridges need to be replaced suddenly. The fund had $287,375 at the end of June, 2006.
The Equipment Fund is money set aside for the purchase of major pieces of equipment. It is funded by transfers from the Road Fund on an as-needed basis.
The Improvements Fund was set up to help keep track of payments made on road improvement projects. These projects are requested by land owners who agree to pay part of the improvement costs. Their payments can be lump sum or in installments. Project material costs and owners’ payments are tracked in this fund.
The Road Districts have their own taxing authority in addition to the state money the county passes on to them. They can levy up to 1/4 of a percent (2.5 mils) of property value within their district each year if their board so chooses. They can also levy up to another 1/4 percent with the approval of the voters in the district.
The oldest and most famous road in Malheur County is the Oregon Trail. It was developed in the 1840s and was heavily used for several decades. It ran from Fort Boise on the Idaho side of the Snake River west between Adrian and Nyssa to East Cow Hollow, then up the Hollow and over the summit to Vale, then up Willow Creek about six miles before turning north past Tub Mountain to Birch Creek and Farewell Bend. Much of the route is now county road.
In the late 1860s, several military wagon roads were constructed in Oregon. Three of them pass through Malheur County. The Dalles Military Road entered the county at the Little Malheur River south of Ironside Mountain and followed South Willow Creek to Cow Valley. Then it ran east to Willow Creek near Brogan, down Willow Creek until it intersected the Oregon Trail, then southeast on the Oregon Trail to Fort Boise in Idaho. The Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Military Road ran from the Crowley area northeast to the Malheur River near Little Valley, then down the Malheur River to the Snake River. The Oregon Central Military Road entered the county near the Whitehorse Ranch, ran northeast to Crooked Creek, down Crooked Creek to the Rome area, then up Jordan Creek to Silver City, Idaho. Parts of these roads were little used, but other segments became part of our current road network. The land grants that went with the military roads probably had more impact on the county’s development than the roads themselves.
As the county filled in and communities were created, local road districts were formed. Eventually, there were several dozen districts and each one had its own equipment and crew. Each district had a supervisor appointed by the County Court. In the 1940s, the State legislature produced statutes allowing road assessment districts. By 1960, Malheur County had formed four of these taxing districts – Nyssa, Ontario, Juntura, and Ironside. In 1962, the County consolidated the remainder of the old road districts and made the County Road Department responsible for that portion of the county lying outside the four assessment districts.
Since 2004, the County has several bridge replacement projects that are partially funded by the Oregon Transportation Investment Act (OTIA).