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After the tax measure fails Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
November 10, 2013 01:19 pm

Curry County Juvenile Director Ken Dukek last week extended a job to a man — and has since had to rescind it, citing the failure of tax Measure 8-73 that would have kept funding in place for his office.

Measure 8-73 asked voters to increase property taxes by $1.345 per $1,000 assessed valuation to keep public safety funding at current levels. It failed Tuesday by almost 1,300 votes.

“When the levy results came back, I called him to tell him we can no longer offer it,” Dukek said of the applicant for a juvenile crew supervisor position. 

“I’d feel poorly about pulling this gentleman off his current job and having to lay him off six weeks later. I recommend we withdraw it (altogether).”

Such stories might become the norm in the next few weeks, as commissioners try to figure out how to address shortfalls in the county budget.

Options

County commissioners have few options from which to choose, although nothing has been discussed.

The board could opt to layoff people in public safety — sheriff’s, district attorney, assessor’s, 911, communications and other departments — as they have said could happen without a reliable source of revenue.

Sheriff John Bishop sees that as a likely possibility.

“I really don’t think the citizens know what this is going to do to the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “I’m looking at laying off a good portion of the Sheriff’s Office this next spring. If nothing changes between now and June 30, I don’t care what Commissioner Brown tells people, we will not have a Sheriff’s Office unless they cut everything in the county and give me all the money. The Sheriff’s Office will be decimated if nothing happens in six months.”

He has no idea what the solution could entail.

“All I can do is tell you what I can do with the money they give me,” he said. “The county takes in about $3 million; I take almost all that now, and I’m running a bare-bones operation.

“I will have to make 75 to 80 percent in cuts. It could (end up being) me and Community Corrections (parole and probation) — no dispatch, no DA, no patrol. In a worst-case scenario, it could be that way.”

Among the first cuts could be the number of beds available in the jail.

Commissioners have often mentioned the possibility of closing the jail, but that would cost the county money to transport and incarcerate inmates in neighboring counties. And, if the county opted to build a new jail in the future, the cost would run in the tens of millions.

The District Attorney’s office, with fewer employees, would have to triage the cases that come into its office, possibly only prosecuting Measure 11 crimes, including rape and murder. 

Dukek has his work cut out for him, too. His office, which works with juvenile criminal offenders in hopes of diverting them from an adult life of crime, has been granted money from various agencies — and most of those require the county to match a percentage of those funds — funds the county no longer has.

“I have about $120,000 in contracts I will not be able to meet,” he told county commissioners in a regular meeting Thursday.

Or bring in the state

Another option the commissioners have is to declare a public safety fiscal emergency, invite Gov. John Kitzhaber to seek legislative approval and establish a way the state can provide “minimally adequate” county services.

Jeff Griffin, regional spokesman for the governor’s office, said there’s been little talk of the issue at the state level — so far.

House Bill 3453, signed into law this summer, has verbiage that includes “minimum service levels,” intergovernmental agreements, “units of local government,” and others that are confusing to even those at the state level.

The steps are fairly lengthy — in time and action, as well.

The governor must first consult with the Senate president, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and each senator and representative whose district is within the afflicted county.

Then, Kitzhaber can declare a public safety emergency, and obtain the written authorization of “any other unit of local government, whether inside or outside the area covered in the proclamation,” and enter into agreements to determine how to perform the “functions and activities related to public safety” that are falling short.

The state could only oversee the staffing for 18 months — with an option to continue them for another 18 months — and the process could only begin after the legislative session ends.

To pay for the services mandated, an income tax surcharge, estimated to be 22 percent, would be established. Part of the bill indicates the state will pay half that through its emergency reserves.

An 11 percent income tax surcharge is a tax against the initial amount an income-tax payer owes. For example, if someone makes $20,000 in taxable income, their tax under state rates would be just less than $2,000. The 11 percent surcharge would be charged to that $2,000, not added to Oregon’s tax rate of 9.9 percent.

It’s not something commissioners want to do.

Even though they’d had their disagreements on just about every element of budget discussions since they were put in office Jan. 7, one topic about which the three commissioners are adamant is keeping problems — and their solutions — at the local level.

Commissioners will, again, likely have time to seek voter approval for another tax measure.

“We need to start from the ground up,” Brown said. “We need to reverse the conversation, and instead of top-down — we set a rate and give it to the voters — we ask the community what they want. I cherish the Sheriff’s Office as much as the next guy, but at some point we have to figure out what the voters have said and why — if it’s service, if it’s a leadership issue? What is it? I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”

They will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. Nov. 13 in Gold Beach to discuss the county’s financial options. 

 

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