County Commissioner Susan Brown has her own idea to solve the budget crisis facing Curry County: She wants a permanent solution — taxes for a law enforcement district — to address the issue of crime.
“I am not in favor of bringing the five-year levy to the ballot,” she said of a proposal Commissioners David Itzen and David Brock Smith seem to be leaning toward that would increase property taxes for five years to give them more time to develop a more stable fix.
Brown is in favor of creating a permanent levy that would fund a law enforcement district for the citizens in unincorporated Curry County. The cities, which already provide their own police services, wouldn’t pay for patrol deputies, but would chip in their share for other services offered under the county’s law enforcement: the jail and parts of the district attorney’s office, courts, juvenile and parole and probation.
“It (the five-year proposal) is not a long-term solution for the sheriff’s office,” she said.
“It doesn’t get him out of the general fund and into his own permanent funding stream. If that were approved, we’ll be back in three years wringing our hands and saying, ‘What are we going to do? What are we going to do?’”
She is adamant, too. Brown said if Smith and Itzen move to approve the five-year levy, she will vote against it. She will not assist in educating the public about the levy, be it by knocking on doors or attending public “town halls.”
“How can I support it if I don’t believe it’s a true fix for the county?” she said. “We’ve spent a lot of time not doing long-term planning. We need to secure our future — not secure our next five years, or next five days.”
Bishop said it would take about two years to create a law enforcement, and Smith said his proposed temporary levy would merely bridge the financial gap until it could be formulated.
Brown went to the assessor’s office Thursday afternoon and determined that unincorporated Curry County has in its boundaries $1.5 billion in assessed valuation. Sheriff John Bishop wants $3.6 million to run all aspects of law enforcement.
So she crunched the numbers. If voters were to approve a separate, $2.5 million levy dedicated to law enforcement, that would mean taxpayers would see a property tax increase of $1.60 per $1,000 assessed valuation. If a $3 million levy were approved, the tax would increase to $1.90 per $1,000. And a $3.5 million levy would result in a $2.32 per $1,000 increase.
“This way, citizens in the unincorporated areas know they’re going to have in place a permanent situation instead of us coming back every few years,” Brown said.
And that might just end up creating a rift in the unified front Smith and Itzen want to present in getting a tax measure approved by voters in May. Taxpayers have never approved a property tax increase, having always relied on O&C funds to provide the bulk of general fund revenue.
When the federal government threatened to cut off funds — and then came in at the last minute to rescue O&C land counties — residents became complacent, no longer believing the sky was going to fall. Now, the feds say they mean it.
“I’ve been here 11 years and heard the same story for 11 years,” Brown said. “Scare tactics don’t work anymore.”
Bishop, she said, needs to play a major part in creating a law enforcement district, first, by marketing it. He would likely have until the November election, as creating a special district takes time, to educate the public.
“If it’s his department and he cares about saving it and serving the people in Curry County, that should be first, first, first,” she said. “He needs to do this to guarantee their safety.”
She is forming a new citizens committee, as well, called the Financial Independent Committee (FIC; pronounced “fix”) — to develop long-term solutions. Such a group could look at volunteer work force, inmate labor for the parks department and fair, reexamining the 19 suggestions from the original Citizens Committee and assessing each department: services, job-sharing opportunities and salaries, among them.
And despite what some call Draconian cuts already made by the county, Brown believes there is more fat on the bone.
“I see areas where we can tighten up,” she said. “We haven’t done everything we can do. We need to really look at that.”
That, she said, would give the county enough time to formulate plans to bring to voters a measure asking to create a special district.
And if the voters say ‘no’ in May?
“If it doesn’t pass, we can go to the November election with a special district,” she said. “And if they vote that down, the voters have clearly spoken. They’re not interested in those services, and we’ll have to let it go.”