The talk of the town was taxes — specifically Measure 8-71 (the public safety levy) and citizens’ wide-ranging opinions about it.
A group of friends discuss Measure 8-71 during their morning coffee klatch at Fred Meyer Friday. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
“Not a snowball’s chance in hell,” said Jim Cross of Harbor, who was sipping coffee with two friends at Ray’s Food Place in Brookings on Friday. “I was a police officer in Montana, and I’ve seen way worse. This has to stop.”
Across the street at Fred Myers, Lana White, who lives in unincorporated Curry County, felt differently.
“I would pay pretty much everything to have police services,” White said. “It’s so little and I can have 911, the parole system in place, the jail still open. Grants Pass isn’t doing so well. I don’t want to go back to the Wild, Wild West.”
The measure asks voters to increase their property taxes by $1.84 per $1,000 assessed value for those living in the county’s three cities and $1.97 per $1,000 for those living in unincorporated Curry County.
Currently, Curry County property owners pay a county tax of .599 cents — the second-lowest in the state.
If voters approve the measure, it is expected the tax will bring in $4.5 million to general fund coffers and is specifically designated for public safety: the Sheriff’s Office, district attorney and juvenile services. The tax sunsets in five years, giving county commissioners time to craft a permanent source of funding for public safety.
Without it, the jail will close, there will be no sheriff’s deputies on the roads and response times to emergencies will be longer than they already are, Sheriff John Bishop has reiterated in numerous meetings.
Curry County faces an unprecedented fiscal crisis triggered by the loss of federal subsidies (O&C funds) that, for decades, replaced money lost by a ban on federal timber sales.
The loss of revenue has left the county without enough money come July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
As of Friday afternoon, 5,039 voters, or 37.32 percent of 13,501 registered voters, had cast their ballots. By comparison, the total percentage of voters that voted in the last special district election, in 2011, was 30.91 percent.
The ballots will not be tabulated until the voting deadline at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Curry County has a long history of not supporting taxes, but this measure might be too close to call, say many in county government.
“I think it’s going to go 52-48,” the sheriff said. “But I couldn’t tell you which way.”
On Friday, a number of citizens were eager to share their thoughts beforehand.
Brookings resident Jim Clarkson, drinking coffee with Cross at Ray’s Food Place Friday, voted against the measure. He said counties that have raised their taxes for similar reasons are still suffering; that money raised from such taxes has been misspent and the public served none the better.
As Cross and Clarkson discussed the issue, their conversation turned to the benefits of such organizations as Court Appointed Special Advocates, whose volunteers act on behalf of children going through the courts, to the federal government and its spending practices.
“That should stay,” Clarkson said.
“Get rid of it all,” Cross responded.
Cross said he thinks all social programs should be eliminated, that government should live within its means “like everyone else,” and that the county should be run by one administrator.
“Everyone’s against it; that’s what I’m hearing,” Clarkson said. “They need to quit spending money they don’t have. The minute that tax levy passes, they’re going to be out buying new police cars and then whine that they need more money.”
At Fred Meyer, one coffee klatch indicated their disfavor of the measure, while another spoke vehemently in favor of the tax.
“We’re being taxed twice,” said Jerry Kemper of Brookings. “I have Brookings police. They (unincorporated residents) want police protection, let the people in the county pay for it. I shouldn’t have to pay.”
Suggestions among the groups for alternatives to the property tax levy came down to three: county officials living within their means, a sales tax — or buying a gun.
“The solution to not going broke is not to raise taxes,” Cross said. “That’s just borrowing your way out of debt. Live within your means like you and me and your home budget.”
“A lot of people are taking pay cuts,” Clarkson said. “Do they?”
If the property tax fails — and I hope it does — I think there ought to be a 3 percent sales tax,” Cross said.
“A sales tax is the fairest way to raise revenue; it’s share by all,” said Ted Olson, a Winchuck resident. “Property owners shouldn’t have to support all the services.”
Others said sales taxes “haven’t worked” in other states.
“I ended up voting for it,” said Ken Gelatt of Harbor. “But I don’t know if I’m doing right or wrong.”
“I shouldn’t have to buy a gun,” White said. “But it could come down to it. What do I have to protect my family? It’s going to be me or them, and it’s going to be me. I have to protect my kids. It’ll be a free-for-all — the Wild, Wild West. We’re going to have to help ourselves. We’re not going to want to be vigilantes, but how can we protect ourselves?”
“I don’t know,” Olson said. “I know people voting for it; I know people voting against it.”
“Everyone’s against it; that’s what I’m hearing,” Cross said. “The whole thing has to be broken. Then dust it off and start over.”
“People who live in the city say it won’t affect them — it will,” White said. “There won’t be any place for the criminals to go. You arrest them — then what?”
“It doesn’t look good for our county,” she added. “Who’s going to want to live here — really? Who’s going to want to be a tourist here?”
“If I were king,” Clarkson said, “things would be different.”