GOLD BEACH – Curry County commissioners say there should be a tax vote in the November general election, but they won’t place it on the ballot without support.
“I believe that this board should put a tax measure on the November ballot but only if a group of citizens support and request such a ballot,” Commissioner Bill Waddle said at Wednesday’s board meeting.
“The voters deserve an opportunity to make an informed decision on the immediate future of Curry County,” Waddle said. “We will provide the citizens’ group with the resources necessary to engage the public with the facts and information for such a tax measure.”
The commissioners are expected to approve a budget worked out by the county’s Budget Committee that would take $350,000 from the vehicle replacement fund, $700,000 from the County Road fund and $450,000 from the county’s working capital to keep the county operational until July 1, 2013.
But officials say the county can not function after that without another source of revenue.
After Waddle and Commissioner George Rhodes failed to make the runoffs following the May Primary Election, they blamed it on their proposal for a new tax.
All other candidates had opposed more taxes.
“I’m extremely frustrated that a large section of the people in Curry County have either consciously or unconsciously made a decision. They don’t want to receive or don’t believe what they’re hearing,” Waddle said.
“One of the reasons Mr. Waddle and I got defeated is we started talking about taxes,” Rhodes said.
Before the election, commissioners were working on a proposed 3 percent sales tax measure but began to feel it had little chance for passage.
They then decided to delay further action.
“I support a November tax measure if a group of citizens comes forward,” Commissioner David Itzen said Wednesday.
He said the timeline must be considered. The proposal would require a September filing.
“The basic rule is, it takes 61 days. We need to have two readings. We probably should do that in August,” Itzen said.
“I think this board has done its job. We have identified two – a property tax and sales tax, either or both. Both were mentioned by the Citizens’ Committee. They are options which would solve our problem,” Itzen said.
Curry County has one of the lowest property tax rates in Oregon for county general services because federal timber sales payments or support payments have in the past been sufficient to pay for the services. But those payments are now gone.
Josephine County recently released dozens of inmates from the county jail due to budget shortages, but it could be much worse for Curry County a year from now, Sheriff John Bishop has said.
“Come June 30 of next year, as of right now, we will release everybody from our jail,” Bishop said.
“It’s really sad that we have to do that,” he said. “I know that talking to Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson, it was one of the last things that he wanted to do, but there was no other choice.”
Gilbertson released 39 inmates, leaving 30 local inmates and another pod of 30 that houses federal prisoners under contract.
Reducing the jail population is part of Josephine County’s response to voter defeat of a law enforcement property tax levy in the May primary. That levy would have funded the sheriff’s office, district attorney and juvenile justice program. It would have increased the county government property tax rate by $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate now, 58 cents per $1,000, is the state’s lowest.
Curry County’s property tax to fund county government is a cent higher than Josephine’s.
“The issue we have that they don’t is, while their tax rate is lower than ours, they have a bond rate they also pay on,” Bishop said. “They were forced to build a new jail.”
That modern jail is on a pod system, where the jail can be shut down by sections. Curry County’s old jail doesn’t have that option.