Voters will decide law levy on May 21
NIMROD: “We’re trying very hard to do the best we can with what we have,” Lane County Sheriff Tom Turner told people at last week’s McKenzie River Chamber of Commerce meeting. “This levy is all people can stand for in these economic times.”
Turner was referring to a property tax levy that will come before voters on the May 21st ballot. It would allow the county to hire staff and reopen 120 beds in the jail, bringing the total space for county inmates to 255 for a five-year period. It would also add 16 beds for underage offenders in the juvenile justice center, including eight for intensive drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.
The “jails only” tax proposal marks the tenth time Lane County will be asking voters to kick in more for law enforcement since 1998. All others have failed.
“This is an absolute minimal request,” Turner said. “It generates enough money a year to open a specific number of beds.”
Despite the track record of other levies in the past, the sheriff said he believes opinion polls have shown voters would support a minimalist approach. “That minimal assistance is enough to keep offenders incarcerated. It doesn’t help with burglars, car thieves or other quality of life issues. But it does deal with rapists, stranglers, murderers or bank robbers to keep them incarcerated. That is what is unfortunately important.”
Turner said the Sheriff’s Office for 30 years has depended on federal dollars to pay for the majority of its operations, rather than the county’s general fund. That outside support is ending and the Sheriff’s Office receives only nine cents out of the $1.28 per thousand of assessed value the county receives from taxpayers. The jail levy would cost taxpayers about $85 a year for a home valued at $185,000.
“This levy has an auditing function that lets people know exactly how their money is being spent,” according to Turner. “There’s also a caveat that the money stays in the Sheriff’s Office so you can’t get a levy, take the money out and give it to somebody else.”
Those two points, he felt, are important to help the public overcome misconceptions about law enforcement budgets in the past. Turner noted that in “a lot of 11th hour” situations, the Sheriff’s Office had been near the brink only to be saved “when federal money came through.” That won’t happen again he said.
Another area that has caused some confusion is Senate Bill 422, introduced by Senator Floyd Prozanski. Turner said it came about when the Marcola Fire District said they would like to fund a resident deputy in their area. Because that wasn’t allowed under current law, attorneys had recommended a legislative fix.
“I was pretty excited about it initially,” Turner said. As other fire districts around the state began to hear about it, they weren’t supportive. “I’ve got a lot of fire districts that are really, really mad at me now,” he added. “They thought I was gonna try and raid their money.” Instead, he said, Marcola had realized they didn’t want to have to arm volunteers for some of the dangerous situations they encountered. Having fire crews waiting on the scene for up to four hours for a deputy to respond was another issue. “I’d say it’s an idea that’s in its infancy and I hope it works, Turner said, adding that the law would allow fire districts to make such requests, without being required to.