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SHERIFF PUSHES REVISED LAW LEVY

Sheriff  Kent Owen ().
Sheriff Kent Owen ().

GOLD BEACH A $2.5 million 5-year law enforcement levy was proposed to the Curry County commissioners Wednesday by Sheriff Kent Owens.

Owens briefed the commissioners at their regular Wednesday morning workshop. They supported his plan, but didnt know where to find the $10,000 needed to hold an election in May.

Owens proposed 3-year $2.1 million law levy was defeated in September 1999 by 55.3 percent no to 44.7 percent yes.

I was disappointed, but not discouraged, he said.

Owens learned two things from the defeat. First, the public thought 12 additional deputies were too many.

Second, though the levy would have distributed the deputies equally, it was defeated by north and central Curry voters.

As in 1999, Owens is offering the citizens 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week coverage in all parts of the county, but he is going about it differently. The county currently has six patrol deputies. Actually, said Owens, that is down to five because of Deputy Skip Clarks back injury.

Even with six, the county has no officers on duty 3-9 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. It can take 45 minutes for an officer to respond to a car accident in Harbor, so Owens has reassigned two north county deputies to the south county.

The 1999 levy would have added 12 deputies, for a total of 18. The north, central and south parts of the county would have each had six patrol officers.

Owens said with vacations, sick leave and training, it takes six deputies to provide round-the-clock coverage in any one part of the county.

Under Owens new plan, the county would be split into two districts: south and north/central. With six new deputies, each district would have six patrol officers for round-the-clock coverage.

In addition, another sergeant would be hired, and a detective who could be used for narcotics, criminal investigations, or even patrol duty as needed.

Owens said the sergeant could provide backup for his officers. He said the anger people have toward each other can quickly be refocused on an officer.

Youre going into situations where you dont know if youre going to get home.

The old levy would have provided a patrol car for each deputy. This time, Owens is proposing three new patrol cars, and a used car for the detective.

A maximum of $10,000 was allotted for the detectives car, but Owens hopes he can purchase one for less. He wants to buy it outright to avoid payments.

Four of the departments cars would be stationed in Brookings, three in Gold Beach, and two in Port Orford.

Deputies would drive their personal vehicles to central locations and pick up patrol cars at the start of each shift.

Owens said some patrol cars have 150,000 miles on them before they are replaced.

Were trying to be fiscally responsible by cutting costs wherever we can, he said.

The old levy would have cost property owners about 49 cents per $1,000 in value for three years.

The new one would cost 32 cents per $1,000 in value for five years. Owens said if property values rise next year as much as they did this year, it might take only 30 cents per $1,000 to raise the needed $2,554,508.

The total property value in Curry County currently exceeds $1.5 billion.

Owens said the levy would amount to an extra $30-32 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said, Thats the same as four lunches out a year to have an officer at your doorstep to save your life.

Capt. Mark Metcalf presented the cost breakdown, including salaries, benefits, cost-of-living raises, one-time equipment costs, recurring expenses like training and supplies, and costs for patrol vehicles and related equipment.

The six patrol deputies would start at a base salary of $30,120 the first year. The detective would be hired at $33,756 and the sergeant at $37,104.

Owens said the 5-year levy would enable him to offer secure positions to attract qualified people.

Each new officer would get $2,825 worth of equipment, including a ballistic vest, a portable radio, a weapon and equipment, badges and accessories, rain gear, and a hat.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont questioned the $125 cost of a flashlight and $400 for rain gear.

Owens said the flashlights are top-quality rechargeable units that mount in the patrol cars. He said officers must know their flashlight is going to work when they corner a suspect in the bushes at night.

He said the rain gear is custom-made of Gortex and can last an officer up to eight years. He said it is not too much to spend on officers who must protect the public in driving rainstorms. He said buying quality gear is more economical than replacing cheap suits every year.

Schafer, a long-time mayor of Gold Beach, said she knows enough about police equipment by now to know Owens costs are right in line.

Schafer said she has no reservations about supporting the levy and will tour the county to tell voters why it is needed.

It was a big issue for me when I was campaigning. I said I would support a fiscally sound measure.

La Bont was also supportive, but wondered where they would find $10,000 for an election in a county that was left $300,000-500,000 in the hole by the previous commissioners.

She said if money cant be found to put the levy on the May 15 ballot, it should be possible to hold the election Sept. 18 or Nov. 6. Oregons double-majority rule would apply.

Schafer said people in the south county and outlying spots like Agness have told her they want more law enforcement coverage.

We have an obligation as elected officials to let those people vote, she said.

Henry Lustig said the need would still be there at the end of five years and Owens would have to go out for another levy. He said the cost should come out of the countys general fund.

Owens said Chuck Denney, the previous sheriff, put more deputies into his general fund budget, but the commissioners always cut them out.

He said he also likes the levy approach because it gives the public more control.

Were going to provide a level of service that the people of the county will want and appreciate, he said. We want to provide a level of service people will want to continue.

La Bont said the commissioners would get input on the law levy from citizens attending Tuesday nights town hall meeting at 7 p.m. at the Chetco Senior Center in Brookings.

She said while she has heard complaints about one state police officer, people tell her the sheriffs department does a good job.

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