By JEFF ST. PETER
Port of Brookings Harbor officials say they intend to proceed carefully and prudently as they pursue the possibility of presenting voters a bond levy for law enforcement within the ports district.
On June 22, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 685, which allows port authorities in Oregon to levy property taxes for the purpose of funding law enforcement services by cities or counties within port boundaries.
The port had pursued the bill through the Oregon Ports Group after Curry County Sheriff Kent Owens was twice rejected by the county electorate in his attempt to pass a levy to increase law enforcement coverage, especially in the south county.
In the most recent levy election this past May, the county as a whole defeated the proposition 55.1 percent (4,394 votes) to 44.9 percent (3,582). But when the votes outside the port district are removed, the outcome was nearly reversed.
If the tally had included only the county ballots from the Pistol River south to the California border and east from the coastline to the Curry County border (port districts boundaries), the sheriffs levy would have passed 53.1 percent (2,412 votes) to 46.9 percent (2,127.
With all the votes in the countys Pistol River precinct added, which is divided inside and outside the port district, the measure would still have passed 52.6 percent (2,472 votes) to 47.4 percent (2,226).
Since support for the sheriffs levy is strongest in the south county, where the need for increased law enforcement is greatest, especially in the unincorporated Harbor area, the port felt there was an opportunity to meet the need by restricting it to the district.
During its Tuesday evening meeting, the port commission decided not to rush the issue, but to take an in-depth look at the needs for law enforcement in the area and the requisite finances.
Russ Crabtree, port manager, described what the port might be looking at in a levy.
We are considering a five-year, $1,547,000 (total bond) levy, he said.
This would allow us to have five patrol officers and two patrol cars dedicated to the district.
The levy would amount to a 32 cent per $1,000 assessed valuation.
When the county ran its levy in May, it was for the same 32 cent per $1,000 assessed valuation.
When Owens ran his first levy approximately two years ago, it was for a 49 cent per $1,000 assessed valuation.
Crabtree said there were a couple of other things the port would like to do.
We would certainly like to look at putting a sheriffs substation at the port, he said. We also would like to see the cars carry a distinctive logo showing they are for the port district.
It would also be good if the sheriffs deputies uniforms designated they work in the port district.
Crabtree recommended that the port take a serious look at the issue before deciding whether or not to present the districts electorate with a bond levy.
This is a long way from being a done deed, he said. My recommendation (to the port board) is we approach this with lots of analysis.
We need to analyze the statistical (crime) data and the financial requirements.
I suggest any decision on a levy be deferred so we can analyze the issue closely before going forward. Its not appropriate to tax without having knowledge of what is needed.
Commissioner Lloyd Whaley believed the port needed to proceed cautiously before considering taxing the district.
I would like to see public input, he said. Its (sheriffs levy) been shot down twice. We dont want to push something across when people have spoken twice.
Commissioner John Zia also advised discretion in broaching the tax issue, but wanted the focus to remain on the law enforcement issue.
The commission has historically shown a distaste for taxes. We are not wanting to go into this hastily.
If we went with port coverage only from the Brookings Police Department, the people of Harbor will be left out.
If we take this thing to a vote (of the districts electorate), it appears this is something (law enforcement) you (district voters) wanted the last time. We just need to know for sure what you (voters) want.
The board of commissioners decided to table the levy issue for 60 days while the port staff conducts research.
The commission also plans to hold a public hearing once the research and analysis is completed.