Curry County residents could have the choice of paying higher property taxes or face home insurance cost hikes of about 60 percent.
That’s what’s happening in Josephine County, Curry County Sheriff John Bishop pointed out at a Curry County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday.
Josephine County, facing the same fiscal challenges that face Curry County, eliminated its sheriff’s office road patrol – and crime has skyrocketed. Bishop said a police officer who recently relocated to Curry County said it was common for an officer to have to pull his gun twice a day – something that rarely happens in counties with adequate law enforcement.
And those with a criminal mind know it.
Sexual abuse crimes alone are up 60 percent in Josephine County. Many crimes aren’t even pursued because there is no staff. Burglaries and robberies are common, forcing homeowners to rely on their insurance to recoup their losses.
As homeowners insurance claims have increased, so has the cost of obtaining insurance.
“We can see the writing on the wall,” said Commissioner Bill Waddle. “All we have to do is look to our neighbors to the east and see what’s going to happen. And it’s not a pretty sight.”
Bishop, District Attorney Everett Dial and juvenile director Ken Dukay agreed it would cost homeowners $2.91 per $1,000 assessed value on their homes to provide their departments with enough money to run at minimal standards.
The comments were made during a presentation outlining the needs of those departments to provide minimum services to the community.
In 2009, the county commissioners hired ASG Consultants to create a 20-year plan to identify staffing and costs in law enforcement, the district attorney and juvenile departments.
The 190-page document indicates that the county would operate at minimum standards if it were to hire sheriff’s deputies, a DA investigator, trial assistants and two victim advocate assistants.
Two years ago, for instance, the juvenile department had 168 at-risk youth receiving services. On Dec. 31, the department will have to cut 18 of them because they don’t have adequate staff.
“We are at critical mass,” said Ken Dukek, juvenile director for the county. “These are kids at the highest risk. We’re turning away 65 percent of the citations because we simply can’t do it. We can’t hire someone because the last thing we want to do is hire someone in January and then give them their walking papers in June.”
The problems are similar in the Sheriff’s Department, as Bishop has noted numerous times to the board in the past.
“There are two critical words: minimum and adequate,” he said. “We are not close to that. We are way below minimum.”
To meet minimum standards, he needs 12 patrol deputies; he has five. And Oregon State Police are eliminating a trouper next week, leaving their ranks at four. The two agencies, along with police in the cities, work well together, but are stretched thin already.
To add 15 positions to the Sheriff’s Office would cost an average of $1.5 million a year, including salary, benefits, training, uniforms and maintenance of vehicles and other overhead.
“We can talk about positions all day long, but money is where the real issue is,” Bishop said. “The service we deliver today is not acceptable.”
The Sheriff’s Office gets $3 million a year from the county – the largest chunk of its budget.
“Three million keeps us below minimum standards,” Bishop said. “And that’s doesn’t include inflation.”
Nor does it include hidden costs, such as mandatory training, the time it takes to get items to trial and inflation. To replace an officer that leaves costs three times their salary to bring a new officer up to their level of expertise, Bishop said.
“Patrol is one small function of the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “A lot of things are hidden behind that. We’ve cut a lot of costs, and there’s not a lot left to cut.”
The sheriff’s staff, too, is overworked. It receives an average of 10 requests for legal work each day – discovery, past records, interviews and other documents – and during big trials, that can increase to 25 a day.
“The 911 call, the attorney wants that,” Bishop said. “There’s the follow-up interviews. They want the photos that go with it. There are days when we don’t keep up with that.”
He cited a request for information on a case from the 1970s involving three or four notebooks of material in the archives – and staff time and money.
The District Attorney’s Office comes into the fray, as well.
A recent burglary case meant the District Attorney Everett Dial needed some 700 pages of discovery from the sheriff’s office. That case isn’t even over yet.
The ASG report indicates Dial needs three deputies for each judge. His office had three in 2003-2004, now has two, and both have told him they’re applying for jobs in other counties.
“You can build us up and give me everything I need, but it doesn’t help if we don’t help juvenile or the DA,” Bishop said. “It’s a bottleneck. All the pieces are in the same box.”