Ashland has joined forces with Medford, Grants Pass and Jackson County in asking that most of the federal relief money meant for counties with the highest unemployment rates not be redirected toward the Portland and Salem metro areas.

Ashland has joined forces with Medford, Grants Pass and Jackson County in asking that most of the federal relief money meant for counties with the highest unemployment rates not be redirected toward the Portland and Salem metro areas.

The Ashland City Council voted Tuesday night to send a letter to the state government recommending that the majority of Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Funding go to counties that suffered unemployment of more than 12 percent in 2009.

Jackson and Josephine Counties were among 14 Oregon counties that saw unemployment hit 12 percent or worse.

Money for Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Funding comes from federal Hardest-Hit Housing Markets aid.

The U.S. Treasury Department defined "hardest hit" as areas with high unemployment, according to a city of Ashland staff memo to the Ashland City Council.

Over the objections of rural communities, the state government has proposed expanding the list of counties that could receive the federal aid from 14 to 20. Several Portland and Salem metro area counties are among the add-ons.

Rather than just looking at high unemployment rates, the state government wants to expand the criteria for aid to consider factors such the decline in home values from their peak.

Rural communities fear that by adding six high-population counties to the list of areas that could receive aid, those urban counties could "receive a disproportionate share of the funding intended to benefit counties with the highest unemployment rates," city of Ashland Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid said in the staff memo to the City Council.

"Thus far, the City of Grants Pass, the City of Medford, and Jackson County, have all submitted letters and resolutions recommending that the funds be allocated 'substantially' to the original 14 counties which qualified as 'hardest-hit' under the U.S. Treasury program guidelines," Reid said in the memo.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.