The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Rogue Valley Weather
AIR STAGNATION ADVISORY ISSUED: 4:43 AM NOV. 17, 2022 – NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
...AIR STAGNATION ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 10 AM PST FRIDAY... * WHAT...Stagnant air is expected, which may lead to deteriorating air quality. * WHERE...Air stagnation will affect sheltered valleys of Eastern Curry, Josephine and Jackson counties including the Illinois, Rogue and Applegate Valleys. * WHEN...For the Air Stagnation Advisory, until 10 AM PST Friday. * IMPACTS...Air stagnation is likely to result in diminishing air quality with time, especially in and near areas with significant sources of air pollution. Diminished air quality is likely to cause health issues for people with respiratory problems if precautions are not taken. * ADDITIONAL DETAILS..Visibility could be reduced at times to a quarter mile or less until 9 am pst. * View the hazard area in detail at https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/map/?wfo=mfr
Bear Alert Issued in South Medford
A South Medford neighborhood is on alert for a bear today. It reported the bear to neighborhood residents and to Medford Police.
The Sun Oaks neighborhood’s security cameras recorded the bear’s visit Wednesday afternoon at its entry gate near Black Oak Drive and Juanipero Way.
Sun Oaks Homeowners Association advised residents within 15 minutes about the bear, which it estimates weighs approximately 400 pounds. It advised residents to keep garage doors closed and to avoid walking pets this afternoon.
Images of the bear show it was very near Black Oak Drive, which runs along Saint Mary’s School. Sun Oaks subdivision sits directly south of Saint Mary’s School near Black Oak Drive and Barnett Road, about a quarter mile from Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.
Groundbreaking Ceremony for Royal Oaks in Medford Today
State, county and city officials celebrate beginning of work on affordable housing for fire survivors
WHAT: State, county and city officials alongside community housing partners will help break ground on the rebuilding of Royal Oaks Mobile Manor, a manufactured home park that was destroyed by the Almeda Fire in 2020. The affordable housing development is expected to open in the second half of 2023 providing homeownership opportunities for people affected by the Almeda and South Obenchain fires.
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022
- Arrivals: 11:45 a.m.
- Remarks: Noon
WHERE: 4069 S Pacific Hwy., Medford. Please park at 4019 S Pacific Hwy., immediately north of the construction site.
WHO: The event will include remarks from:
- Representative Pam Marsh
- Caleb Yant, deputy director of Oregon Housing and Community Services
- Joe Vollmar, housing director at ACCESS
- Ryan Haynes, director of Real Estate Development at Housing Authority of Jackson County
Visuals: Groundbreaking and shovel ceremony with officials and dignitaries
The manufactured home park that was destroyed in the Almeda Fire, will soon be able to house over 100 families. The project will go a long way toward creating more affordable housing in the Rogue Valley, already in short supply before the fire.
The affordable housing development will bring 118 modular units to Rogue Valley. The units will be available to the survivors. It’ll begin the rebuilding process of the former Royal Oaks Mobile Manor on the South Pacific Highway. The Housing Authority of Jackson County, Oregon Housing and Community Services, and Access, are all behind the effort.
“This is a huge step forward and it really symbolizes a lot to us, one of the biggest obstacles we’re seeing when working with fire survivors is the lack of housing as well as affordable housing for people to get in, to move into homeownership and call it their home is a huge step forward,” said Joe Vollmar Access Housing Director.
A modular unit is built in a factory and then shipped to the site. The affordable housing development is expected to open by September 2023, around the time of the 3 year anniversary of the Almeda Fire.
Jackson County Sheriff · Prospect Area: Community Meeting
Thursday 11/17 6-9 p.m. at Prospect Community Club – 305 Red Blanket Rd., Prospect, OR
Southern Oregon Woman Indicted for Using Deceased Spouse’s Identity to Obtain Federal Student Aid
MEDFORD, Ore.—A Southern Oregon woman is facing federal charges alleging she used her deceased spouse’s identity to fraudulently obtain more than $36,000 in federal student aid.
On October 6, 2022, a federal grand jury in Medford returned a nine-count indictment charging Cynthia Pickering, 55, of Central Point, Oregon with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and student loan fraud.
According to court documents, beginning in September 2017 and continuing though April 2019, Pickering is alleged to have devised a scheme to use her deceased spouse’s personally identifiable information to submit multiple applications for federal student aid and enroll her former spouse at three different colleges and universities in Oregon. These fraudulent applications caused the three colleges and universities—Eastern Oregon University, Rogue Community College, and Western Oregon University—to disperse $36,341 in federal student aid into Pickering’s personal checking account.
To conceal her scheme, Pickering attended online classes pretending to be her former spouse so that her spouse would remain eligible for the student aid. Pickering did what was necessary to pass first term courses at each institution and collect the funds.
On November 15, 2022, Pickering was arrested at her residence in Central Point. The next day, on November 16, 2022, she made her first appearance in federal court in Medford before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Pickering was arraigned, pleaded not guilty, and released pending a jury trial scheduled to begin on January 24, 2023.
Wire fraud and student aid fraud are punishable by up 20 years and five years in federal prison, respectively, per count of conviction. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by up to two years in prison consecutive to any other carceral sentence imposed.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General (ED-OIG). It is being prosecuted by John C. Brassell, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
If you or someone you know believe you are the victim of federal student aid fraud or are otherwise aware of student aid fraud being committed, please contact ED-OIG by calling 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733) or submit a tip online at https://oighotlineportal.ed.gov/eCasePortal/.
Oregon State Police Firearms Instant Check System (FICS) Update
The Oregon State Police (OSP) is aware that the public has many questions regarding Ballot Measure 114. The Oregon Secretary of State’s office notified OSP that Ballot Measure 114 will go into effect at 12:00 a.m. on December 8, 2022. The Oregon State Police is working very closely with the Department of Justice, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police to assess the required processes that need to be completed to implement this law.
For the month of November 2022, approximately 63% of the requests received into the OSP Firearms Instant Check System (FICS) unit have been approved. The remaining transactions must be evaluated by an OSP employee to determine what caused the person to be kicked out of the automated process. If applicable a manual correction can be made, and the application can be approved.
Here are some important notes to consider when submitting for a Firearms purchase or transfer that could exclude you from the automated process:
- If you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime in Oregon or any other state.
- If you have incomplete or incorrect information listed on federal ATF Form 4473
- Potential Fix- Double-check the information for accuracy.
- If your registered DMV address does not match the address listed on federal ATF Form 4473
- Potential Fix- Update your personal address with DMV.
This unit has been working through these extreme firearms request volumes and will continue to process them as quickly as possible.
The FICS unit’s hours of operation is set in Oregon Revised Statute (ORS), and largely determined by retail hours. FICS is open and processing background checks from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week 363 days a year with only Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day off.
For more information about the Oregon State Police’s Firearms Instant Check System (FICS) including how to complete a Firearm Pre-Purchase Self-Assessment Questionnaire click here:
Oregon’s Unemployment Rate Rises to 4.1% in October
Oregon’s unemployment rate rose to 4.1% in October from 3.8% in September and was above the recent low of 3.5% reached in May, June and July. October was the first month Oregon’s unemployment rate was above 4% since January, when the rate was 4.2%. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate rose from 3.5% in September to 3.7% in October.
In Oregon, nonfarm payroll employment rose by 5,200 jobs in October, following a loss of 500 jobs in September. The gains in October were largest in financial activities (+2,500 jobs), manufacturing (+1,100), health care and social assistance (+1,100), leisure and hospitality (+800), and construction (+700). These gains were partially offset by losses in retail trade (-700 jobs) and government (-600).
Oregon’s private sector added 5,800 jobs in October, reaching another all-time high of 1,682,300. This was 10,600 jobs, or 0.6%, above this sector’s pre-recession peak in February 2020.
Financial activities added 2,500 jobs in October, bouncing back from job declines totaling 1,600 between June and September. Job gains in October were strongest in real estate and rental and leasing, which added 1,900, as firms in the following industries added workers: rental centers and lessors of buildings and dwellings.
Construction continued its rapid expansion of the past 12 months, when it added 8,800 jobs, or 7.9% growth. It employed 120,900 in October, another record high, which was well above construction’s pre-recession total of 112,300 in February 2020.
In contrast to the rapid growth of many of Oregon’s industries, retail trade trended downward this year. It employed 208,500 in October, which was a loss of 2,900 jobs during the first 10 months of the year. Since October 2021, general merchandise stores cut 2,300 jobs, which was the most of the retail component industries. Two other retail industries shedding jobs over the year included motor vehicle and parts dealers (-900 jobs) and building material and garden supply stores (-800).
Economic Update – This morning the Employment Department released the jobs numbers and unemployment rate for Oregon in October. (Video with Oregon Employment Department State Employment Economist Gail Krumenauer discussing the details is available on YouTube.)
Job growth bounced back in Oregon during October. Employers added 5,200 jobs to nonfarm payrolls.
Three sectors of Oregon’s economy had large job gains in October. Financial activities added 2,500 jobs, with most of that occurring in real estate and rental and leasing. Private health care and social assistance added 1,100 jobs in October. Oregon manufacturers also added 1,100 jobs over the month.
Oregon’s unemployment rate rose to 4.1% in October and was slightly higher than the U.S. rate of 3.7%. Even with this slight uptick, Oregon’s unemployment rate remains low by historical standards.
Paid Leave Oregon – Jan. 1 is an important date for Oregon employers and workers, as it marks a significant step toward Oregon workers having a vital safety net — Paid Leave Oregon. On that date, employers and employees will start contributing to the Paid Leave Oregon trust fund, which will pay for employees to take paid time off for some of life’s most important moments.
Paid Leave Oregon covers leave for the birth or adoption of a child, for serious illness or injury, for taking care of a seriously ill family member, and for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or harassment.
This week, Paid Leave Oregon launched a new statewide campaign✎ EditSign aimed at notifying Oregon employers about their role and responsibilities in the new program, which begins in just six weeks, on Jan. 1.
This statewide ad campaign includes social and digital advertising featuring Oregon employers, radio advertising, and a new video that explains the program. Paid Leave Oregon also has a new online employer toolkit, a one-stop place for employers to find all the resources they need to prepare.
The new campaign targets employers, because all employers, regardless of size, will collect contributions from employees starting Jan. 1. This effort is in addition to the ongoing outreach Paid Leave Oregon has been doing since 2021 to employees, employers and partners.
Paid Leave Oregon benefits will be available to employees in September 2023, and another statewide campaign focusing on employees and small businesses will begin next year.
Employer Contributions for Unemployment Insurance in 2023 – By Nov. 15 each year, in accordance with Oregon law, the Employment Department notifies Oregon employers of the unemployment insurance payroll tax schedule and contribution rate for the following calendar year.
Employer contributions, which are set according to a statutory formula for establishing the annual rate schedule, provide the funding for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in Oregon. This trust fund is the source of the unemployment insurance benefits for Oregon workers. Workers do not contribute to this fund or to their unemployment benefits.
The Oregon Employment Department recently mailed each employer their annual Unemployment Insurance Notice of Tax Rate for 2023, and the notification this year is good news for employers. The department is again lowering the tax rate for employers, from an average rate of 1.97% of taxable wages in the 2022 calendar year (tax rate schedule III) to an average rate of 1.73% of taxable wages (tax rate schedule II) in 2023.
Thanks to bipartisan efforts within Oregon’s Legislature and the strong collaboration between Oregon’s worker and business communities, Oregon’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is well prepared for economic challenges, such as another economic downturn. This means that if there is another recession, there will be less long-term unemployment insurance costs for Oregon businesses. It also means the Employment Department will be able to collect less in employer contributions to maintain Oregon’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in 2023 than it projects the fund will pay out in benefits.
The notice sent to employers about the 2023 tax schedule and contribution rate included a reminder about the Paid Leave Oregon contribution rates for employers and employees, which were set earlier this year and will start on Jan. 1.
Receiving timely, accurate wage reports and contributions from employers helps the Employment Department efficiently and effectively operate both the Unemployment Insurance and Paid Leave Oregon programs.
Filing these reports and tax contributions is now much easier with the Employment Department’s modernized system, Frances Online. Employers will use Frances Online for both their Unemployment Insurance and Paid Leave Oregon contributions in 2023, and they also can read letters and make changes to their business accounts in the new system. Employers filed their quarterly payroll tax filing for the third quarter of 2022 in Frances Online for the first time, and the numbers indicated that employers and third-party administrators are adapting well to the modernized system. As of Nov. 4, more than 166,395 employers had filed their third-quarter filings in Frances Online.
As employers and others begin to use Frances Online more frequently, the Employment Department is making adjustments to the system in response to customers’ feedback about their experiences.
“One of the skills we honed most during the pandemic was to listen to our customers, and better understand their experiences, so that we could make the right adjustments to really meet their needs,” said Employment Department Acting Director David Gerstenfeld. “We have already made many adjustments to Frances Online based on what we’ve heard from our customers, and we are planning more enhancements in the future.”
Employer Tax Relief – Oregon employers recently received significant unemployment insurance tax relief thanks to collaborative legislation passed in 2021, House Bill 3389. The bill was intended to provide short- and long-term pandemic tax relief to Oregon employers while protecting the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Through the bill’s short-term provisions, OED has provided unemployment insurance tax forgiveness to more than 19,000 employers and has issued more than $43.3 million in payments to eligible employers. Looking longer term, from 2021 to 2029, the changes are estimated to save Oregon employers $2.2 billion in unemployment insurance taxes.
“We want to thank Oregon businesses for all they do to promote economic stability in Oregon, even during challenging times,” said Gerstenfeld. “We know many employers in our state have faced significant challenges in the past several years. We’ve seen supply chain issues, and some employers have had difficulty recruiting and retaining workers. Despite this, we’ve seen Oregon’s employers continue to contribute to our economy and create record numbers of jobs.”
Contributions from employers have been vital in supporting Oregon’s ongoing economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and their efforts have helped people and communities across the state regain financial stability and prosper.
State to pause accepting new applications for Oregon Homeowner Assistance Fund Program
Homeowners urged to seek free guidance from housing counselors.
SALEM, ORE. — Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) will pause accepting new applications for the Oregon Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) Program at 11 a.m. PST on Nov. 30, 2022. This pause will allow OHCS to process current applications in its pipeline, allow for minor system maintenance, and better project the amount of federal HAF funds remaining for homeowners.
“Since making the first HAF program payment in January 2022, the program has served the most at-risk homeowners, keeping families in their homes,” said Ryan Vanden Brink, assistant director of Homeowner Assistance Programs. “The HAF team could not do this work without Oregon’s housing counseling agencies, which stand by to provide advice and advocacy for struggling homeowners across the state. If you are a homeowner falling behind, don’t delay, reach out to a state approved homeownership center right away.”
Anyone who is eligible to apply in Phases 1, 2, or 3 of OHCS’ phased program opening is encouraged to apply for HAF assistance before 11 a.m. PST on Nov. 30, 2022. Homeowners can learn more about eligibility for each of these phases and apply online at oregonhomeownerassistance.org.
If a person has previously applied or began an application, the pause will not impact them. Those who started their applications will still be able to access and complete them, and those applications that were previously submitted will still be processed. Applicants can continue to log on to the HAF portal to complete their application or check the status of their finished application. They can opt in to email alerts as their application advances.
To serve the most at-risk homeowners, as an exception to this pause, OHCS will continue to accept new applications submitted by housing counselors on behalf of homeowners that are in a judicial action or have a verified foreclosure sale date. If you are in a judicial action, or in a nonjudicial foreclosure and can provide documentation of a pending foreclosure sale date, please apply before the pause or work with a free housing counselor to submit your application.
OHCS planned its HAF program to operate as a safety net for the most at-risk eligible homeowners who have no viable workout option, and it will continue to operate HAF this way during the pause. During a very limited pilot program HAF received about 180 applications. Since opening Phase 3 in June 2022, an additional 1,700 HAF applications have been started by Oregon homeowners.
Free help is available – During this pause, homeowners who have fallen behind or are at risk of missing a payment on their mortgage can continue to get free help from certified housing counselors around the state to learn about budgeting tools and evaluation of options to keep their homes, such as modifications, adding deferred payments to the end of a mortgage, or HAF. HAF may not be the best option for everyone, and it may prevent homeowners from servicer options available for different types of loans. Housing counselors are knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated professionals who can help homeowners communicate with their mortgage servicers.
Search the full list of free certified housing counselors by county. Homeowners should be aware that some housing counseling agencies take longer to respond due to the holidays and remote working policies.
In addition to connecting with a certified housing counselor, Oregon homeowners should directly contact their mortgage servicers and lenders to see what types of mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention programs are available. Homeowners who communicate with their lenders and servicers have some additional protections and usually have more time to figure out their options.
Avoiding fraud – The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services recommends being extremely cautious with offers to help from unauthorized companies or people. Homeowners are urged not to provide financial or personal information unless they verify the company or person’s licensing status. It does not cost anything to apply for the HAF program or meet with an Oregon housing counselor.
There are a number of common warning signs homeowners should watch out for that may indicate a scam. If a homeowner suspects they’re being contacted by a scammer, they can report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Oregon Department of Justice, or the U.S. Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General.
To verify a lender’s license, visit the Division of Financial Regulation’s license page and compare it with the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) license number. This number must be included on all advertising materials and should be easy to find. To verify a housing counseling agency’s status with the state, make sure they are listed on the OHCS website. Comunicado de prensa en español
Oregon’s Next Governor Says First Focus Will Be On Homelessness
Signs of the housing crisis in Oregon are widespread. You can’t miss cluttered tent encampments in city parks and along bike trails and sidewalks, as well as people living in parked recreational vehicles.
Sky-high property prices and a shortage of 111,000 housing units in Oregon have exacerbated the situation. Now, Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek says solving the housing crisis will be her top priority.
“On Day One, I will issue an executive order to increase the pace and scale of housing production statewide, with a focus on financing housing that’s affordable for middle-class families,” Kotek told The Associated Press in an email from the campaign trail.
Homelessness, and the increased cost of living in cities like Portland, were major issues during the governor’s race. Kotek defeated former lawmakers, Republican candidate Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson.
It’s also an issue in other West Coast states. This month in California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom halted $1 billion in state spending for local governments as he seeks to reset the state’s strategy ahead of the second term that he was just elected to.
For decades, California’s state government has viewed homelessness as a local issue, giving cities and counties tens of billions of dollars to get people into permanent housing. But with high cost of living only increasing the scale of homeless encampments throughout the state, Newsom said he would pause spending. He will meet with local officials on Friday to “review the state’s collective approach to homelessness.”
On Nov. 3, the city council of Portland, Oregon, voted to establish at least six large designated campsites and to gradually ban street camping within the next 18 months. On Nov. 10, Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed spending $27 million to jumpstart construction of the campsites. The city council will consider it on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Kotek met with Wheeler to discuss Portland’s latest push to address homelessness. Kotek said she generally supports the plan and will closely watch developments. Kotek wants to meet with Wheeler every two weeks to ensure they’re sharing information and working together on these urgent issues.
The Oregon Mayors Association has asked the Legislature for $124 million annually “for this crisis to be humanely and timely addressed.” The mayors pointed out that that amount wouldn’t cover the construction of shelter and transitional housing projects statewide.
Kotek, a former House speaker, didn’t share details about her planned executive order on expanding available housing. Experts say expanding affordable housing is crucial.
“It’s a false dichotomy that things will get better if we put shelters in while we wait for housing, because people are still homeless in shelters, people have trauma in shelters,” said Marisa Zapata, a professor at Portland State University and an expert on homelessness. “Some people don’t even want to live in shelters — they feel safer outside.”
During the gubernatorial campaign, Drazan and Johnson blamed Democrats for the problem. In a campaign video, Johnson referred to Kotek, a Portland resident, as “Tent City Tina.” In the same video she referred to Zapata, who criticized Johnson’s characterization of Portland as “the city of roaches,” as “some woke professor from Portland State.”
Zapata, who now calls herself “Some Woke PSU Professor” on Twitter, said she’s looking forward to learning about Kotek’s plan for expanding available housing.
“It is largely a lack of affordable housing that causes homelessness. So I love that that’s top and center,” Zapata said.
Kotek also said that in her first month as governor, she will form a team to address homelessness among veterans, families with children, unaccompanied youth and seniors by 2025.
“I will immediately prioritize expanding managed shelters, improving access to mental health and addiction services, and getting new street outreach teams on the ground to help people,” Kotek said.
Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, which assists homeless people, applauded Kotek’s game plan.
“It addresses the long-term supply side problems, which may take a decade to impact in a meaningful way,” Jones said. He also praised Kotek’s plan to increase access to shelters, substance abuse treatment and mental health services.
Kotek said she plans to travel around Oregon starting in January to talk to community leaders about issues facing the state, particularly the shortage of affordable housing and addiction treatment.
If more money is allocated to address homelessness, Zapata said that funds may need to come from other city programs. But according to Zapata, it’s not only homeless people who stand to benefit.
“When we focus on what we need to do, which is to provide housing, the negative consequences — people who are seeing homelessness or having to clean up after encampments — automatically go away.”
Oregon Powerball(R) Millionaire Claims Prize
Salem, Ore. – When a retired truck driver purchased $10 in Powerball tickets on a whim during the record jackpot run up, little did he know he would be one number away from winning billions.
Brooks Keebey of Salem knew something was up when he scanned his ticket at a local store and it told him to see customer service. He then learned the ticket he purchased on November 7, 2022 was worth $1 million.
Keebey is one of two $1 million Powerball winners sold in Oregon during the biggest jackpot run in lottery history. Keebey matched all five numbers, missing only the Powerball.
When asked if he was disappointed about being one Powerball number away from the record jackpot he replied, “I’m not greedy.”
Keebey is planning to use his winnings to pay property taxes and buy his wife a used Cadillac. At 82, he is retired from driving fuel trucks and said it will be wonderful to have the money for the remainder of his retirement.
Keebey bought his Powerball ticket at the TNT Hollywood Tavern in Salem. Powerball is a multi-state jackpot operated by 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The largest prize won in Oregon was a $340 million jackpot in 2005.
The Oregon Lottery recommends that you sign the back of your ticket to ensure you can claim any prize. In the event of winning a jackpot, players should consult with a trusted financial planner or similar professional to develop a plan for their winnings. Players have a year to claim their prize.
Since the Oregon Lottery began selling tickets on April 25, 1985, it has earned nearly $15 billion for economic development, public education, outdoor school, state parks, veteran services, and watershed enhancements. For more information on the Oregon Lottery visit www.oregonlottery.org.