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Sheriff: Salaries no secret

Sheriff John Bishop doesn’t care who knows how much his salary is — and people have been asking.

As an elected official, it’s public information, but with a tax levy on the May 21 ballot, he’s even more willing to show that, compared to Oregon counties of similar size, taxpayers are getting a deal with him and the services his department provides.

Bishop makes $69,253 a year.

He is in desperate need of funds to keep his department open and supports a tax levy increase headed for the May ballot.

The tax question, approved Wednesday and to be on the May 21 ballot, asks in-city voters to increase their property taxes to $1.84 per $1,000 assessed valuation and those living in unincorporated parts of the county to tax themselves $1.94 per $1,000.

It will generate $4.5 million for public safety, funding the jail, 911, criminal investigations, crime prevention, search and rescue, marine patrol, civil process, juvenile detention services, traffic safety, school resource programs, sheriff patrols, adult parole and probation, wildland fire and tsunami evacuations, emergency services, and drug enforcement, prevention and education.

In 2012-2013 those services worked on a $3.8 million budget. The county’s fiscal year ends June 30. 

If the ballot question fails, the entire county budget will crash to $2.1 million; if Bishop were to use $1.5 million of that, the remaining funds would be insufficient to keep the county running.

The ballot question notes that funds generated would go specifically to law enforcement and public safety.

The pay today

Under the budget approved for the fiscal year 2012-2013, sheriff’s patrol deputies make $50,094 a year. The jail deputies make $47,018. And civil deputies make $47,018.

The problem is, there aren’t enough of any of them, Bishop said.

A comfortable staffing level — not one that’s extravagant or one that’s so lean it worries him — would comprise 12 patrol officers, 14 in the jail, one more civil officer and, ideally, one more in 911.

Currently, the seven 911 operators have been deputized so they can help run the jail as there aren’t enough people — Bishop has 10 jail deputies — to do so. Bishop’s five patrol deputies often have to return to Gold Beach to help in the jail — where law requires a minimum of two to be on duty there — or escort prisoners from jail to court.

His one civil patrol officer, whose job is to work on restraining orders, foreclosures and other legal paperwork, jumps in to help dispatch. Those in the parole and probation departments help in the jail as well. A volunteer serves papers, otherwise that would fall to a patrol deputy. The parole and probation administrative aide is known to help out in 911.

Even Bishop takes to the roads to respond to emergencies, or helps in the jail, serves as court security and escorts prisoners to court.

That’s with a $3.8 million budget. If he were to work with a $2.1 million general fund budget, law enforcement would be provided with $1.5 million of that — which is virtually impossible, Bishop said.

County officials have said 65 employees would have to be laid off if the tax levy fails.

“When they’re doing two and three jobs and you have to lay them off, you don’t just feel the pinch,” Bishop said. “You get decimated.”

Other towns, other sheriffs

In the seven Oregon counties similar in population size to Curry County, with a population of 23,258, Bishop makes the least amount of money. The next highest paid sheriff is that in Union County, who pulls down $72,778 a year — and that’s to run a public safety department that doesn’t have a jail, 911 or emergency services.

The sheriff in Hood River, population 22,346, makes $77,987 a year and, like Union County, does not oversee a jail or 911 system.

The highest paid sheriff in the seven counties — the others include Jefferson ($82,782), Wasco ($82,390), Crook ($80,101) — is the one in Tillamook. There, with a population of 26,130, the sheriff makes $90,000 a year. And while he has a jail, he has no 911 system or animal control services.

Bishop is the fifth lowest-paid sheriff in the state, ahead of only Lake, Wheeler, Gilliam, Grant, Baker, Morrow and Coos Bay.

But even the Coos Bay sheriff, making $63,043, is a retired sergeant who has returned to work and collecting his pension. He is therefore limited by law to a maximum salary.

Bishop supports the tax levy, but said he understands why some city officials don’t like the numbers Smith presented — both the percentages of county services used by cities and unincorporated areas, and the small difference in taxes, about 5 percent, that would be paid by each.

“County budget is totally different than a city budget,” Bishop said. “County government is completely different. It’s not that one’s better; they’re just different jobs. And people don’t realize that.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The system’s broken. We have to have it (the additional funding); the alternate is a disaster.” 

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