County commissioners agreed Tuesday to ask voters Sept. 16 to increase their property taxes by 68 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to fund the jail — but dropped the idea to add an additional 4 cents per $1,000 for a Veteran’s Service officer (VSO).
Commissioner Susan Brown was the sole vote against the proposal. She is pursuing the creation of a survey to find more definitive answers about what services voters are willing to pay for.
“We think it’s better to have each one (jail and VSO) stand alone,” said Commissioner David Itzen. “I think the jail measure will be well-taken.
“We’re already started losing good people who feel we’re not moving quickly enough to solve the problems,” he added. “I fear we’re going to see more of an exodus. That’s another important reason to place this question on a September ballot.”
68 cents for the jail
The ballot question, the third to face voters in the past two years, would sunset in three years, in which time Sheriff John Bishop hopes to prove to voters the necessity of a jail in Curry County.
The board also agreed to let the budget committee know it needs to increase next year’s budget by 10 percent, and, in addition, provide Bishop with $400,000 from the road fund to pay for six more road deputies he said he desperately needs.
And it brings the amount of money the board has taken from the road fund to $2.05 million; state legislation that permits them to do so sunsets in January 2016.
“I’ve been contacted by numerous citizens regarding my budget,” Bishop told commissioners last week, regarding how his deputies are being adversely affected by being short-staffed. “I’m not only extremely concerned about the safety of our citizens, but the safety of my deputies.”
Bishop’s concerns were heightened this month after a deputy suffered severe hypothermia in an ocean rescue, Bishop’s search and rescue team was called to a drowning on the Rogue River, four deputies were needed for court security in a high-profile assault case and, a few days later, was asked to oversee an incident involving a man who’d barricaded himself in a Brookings house for 12 hours and threatened to shoot anyone who dared enter.
“A deputy was almost lost in that rescue, a woman drowned and we needed more reserves,” he said. “The barricade: That stretched all our resources. It is incumbent upon me to bring this (issue) up. I am really concerned for the safety of the guys I have working the streets.”
Road deputies can temporarily be funded using road fund money, which will likely be the only recourse unless legislators extend the sunset date on that law. And state and federal elected officials say there is no legislation addressing any more timber money, any other bailout for Oregon’s 18 O&C counties in the upcoming session, Bishop and others said.
Curry’s eroding jail
And the jail represents a different challenge.
“We’ve got to do something to get the jail funded,” Bishop said. “Insurance, jail and six deputies — that’s all my money. Next June we’ll be out of money and the jail will close. I don’t see any way around it.”
Port Orford Mayor Jim Auborn agreed.
“We need to support the jail,” he said., adding that he is waiting to see what his council thinks. “What I like about this measure is that it’s a flat rate, not split across urban and rural, with each getting equal benefits. I think that sounds reasonable.”
Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog, speaking on behalf of his council, said a three-year levy at a rate of less than $1 is acceptable to them.
“The city council made an issue out of the fact (if they’d gone with a five-year measure, as proposed last year) that gives enough time for them to get out — the bluebird over the rainbow and all that stuff; leave it to the next commissioners to solve,” he said. “We wanted to hold them to three years. The sheriff said he would prove up the numbers (at that point), and I trust him.
“I feel Curry County citizens should give the sheriff three years to prove his numbers,” he added. “The jail’s a necessary function for the county. And a necessary function for the cities.”
Bob and Dave Snazuck, co-owners of the Best Western in Harbor, pleaded with commissioners to increase the public safety budget.
“Our company has been using a private security company for nine years, but it starts and ends with the Sheriff’s Office,” Bob said. “We’re sort of being vigilantes. The sheriff’s department is one department you don’t want to cut too far. The other departments you can cut and patch them back together later, but not the Sheriff’s Office.”
He suggested that, if commissioners were unable to fund Bishop’s office as needed, the board should declare a fiscal emergency and let the state take over county operations.
“I spent 15 years as a chaplain in that place; I know how necessary it is,” said Mayor Karl Popoff. “We’ve got to have it. When I was there, it was the worst of the worst. I just spoke to a retired (Curry County) deputy. What he told me was kind of scary. These kids they’ve got in there now are worse. They’ve got no respect, no fear. To have our jail closed up and let these people free on the streets? I don’t think so.”
Logan Couch of Knight Security, contracted by various Harbor businesses to patrol their properties, said he even has difficulty obtaining help.
“I can only go so far; I can only notice and report,” he said. “A number of times I’ve tried to call, and it’s slim pickings to get any help. You have to look people in the eye and say, ‘I can’t help you.’ It may not be a big thing in the scope of things going on in the county, but to them (victims), it’s huge.”
He said criminals are getting bolder, as they know there is limited law enforcement around.
“Deputies are running from the time they get on (duty) to the time they get off; it’s horrible for these guys,” Couch said. “Please do something; don’t just talk about it.”
That point was driven home last weekend after Mattie’s Pancake House was burglarized. When an employee called 911 Saturday morning, she was told there was no one on duty to respond. Sheriff’s officers, aided by Brookings Police, arrived on scene later when it was reported that the restaurant owner was following a suspect down the street.
Smith said he understands.
“We’ve got a criminal element coming in from the south in Del Norte County, and a criminal element coming in from the east from Josephine County,” he said. “The lack of a law enforcement buffer is allowing crime to leach in.”
“Our sheriff is the expert in law enforcement,” Bob Snazuck said. “That’s why we elected him. He’s the one wearing the badge. And if he’s short-staffed, one of these days, it’ll turn out bad.”
“If you think anyone thinks this jail is not worth saving, they need to get a really good reality check,” Popoff said. “We don’t have anything on the horizon, galloping in to save us. There are times you just have to take a stand. I support the sheriff; I’m not going to back down.”