Brookings resident Bob Horel has banded together with about 20 other citizens to get the word out about what the failure of the county’s Public Safety Levy (Measure 8-71) will mean to the people of Curry County.
If approved, the measure would increase property taxes by $1.97 per $1,000 assessed value for those living in unincorporated Curry County and $1.84 per $1,000 for those living in cities.
It would raise about $4.5 million, all of which would be dedicated to public safety at the county level, making up for what has been gradually cut with the demise of federal forest land revenues.
If it fails, there is a chance the state will take over the county, staff it to a level at which it believes is sustainable — and bill the citizens, either through an income tax or by taking it from special district revenue it would be collecting as it acts as the county, to pay for its services.
“The message is to keep control local,” said Horel, a Brookings resident, school board member and proponent of the tax measure. “If this thing doesn’t pass, the state’s going to be in our business big-time. That’s what we need to avoid. They’ll be in control, they’ll decide how they’ll run various things, and it’s not going to be good for us.”
To get the message out, the Curry Political Action Committee (PAC) has signs ordered, a brochure ready to go to the printer and is making its presence known at various meetings throughout the county.
Horel emphasizes what Curry County commissioners have been saying for months: That if the state comes in, it would merely use Curry County as a test case for larger counties in Oregon that face the same financial problems.
“They’re going to make it very uncomfortable for Curry County,” he said. “A lot of people in Salem say it’s very clear that if they have to step in, every other county will watch and say, ‘Oh, we don’t want this to happen to us.’”
As a school board member, he is most concerned that the state, in collecting Curry County’s tax revenue, will take money from special districts to pay for its services. Those monies merely pass through the county on their way to the county’s numerous special districts, including schools, fire departments, libraries and other services.
“It would be really, really bad for school districts,” Horel said. “Whatever the state’s going to do isn’t going to make us happy.”
Horel admitted he is a bit taken aback by the city of Brookings’ recent suggestions to county commissioners to change its form of government to home rule, consider a different tax rate on a November ballot and consolidate various county services with the city.
“I was surprised the city felt empowered to give advice to the county given that their service levels aren’t what the county offers,” he said. “Their tax rate is far in excess of the county tax rate. For them to feel they’re in a position to give advice to the county when the county is running on one-sixth their rate. ... I was surprised.”
He also wishes all the county commissioners were on board with the ballot measure — Commissioner Susan Brown has spoken out vehemently against it, saying it is not a permanent solution — but Horel doesn’t feel that will be a deterrent in getting voters’ approval.
“This is not perfect from every perspective,” he said of the ballot question. “But we don’t have the option for making it perfect for everybody. They (county commissioners) had time (to do something) three years ago. They saw this coming and were not willing to take a position on it.”
The issue of taxation is said to have been the reason two commissioners who brought it up for consideration — George Rhodes and Bill Waddle — were not voted back into office last May.
Regardless of Curry County residents’ anti-tax sentiment, Horel believes the Kitchen Table survey results better reflect the sentiments of voters than talk on the street. That study indicated citizens realize the dire straits in which the county finds itself and knows something must be done.
“They leave me hopeful,” Horel said. “The populace really does understand the issue, and they’re more supportive of a property tax than any other tax. Secondly, in talking with people — people on both sides — we’re close. But we have a good opportunity to win it.”
So the signs will go up on the byways and highways. A mass mailing might be sent. Letters to the editor will be penned. Brochures will be printed, feet will hit the streets and speakers will address service organizations.
“I’m expecting most everyone’s going to pass resolutions (in favor) of this,” Horel said. “We’ve collected a significant amount of money, we’ve got a large group of people, we’re talking at meetings; it’s a real fast-track campaign. We’ve got it working.”