Sheriff John Bishop knows pretty much everything there is to know about public safety in Curry County.
And he shared that knowledge at a League of Women Voters meeting Monday that attracted about 30 citizens who learned what he does in his job to how he feels about federal gun-control legislation.
Bishop listed the nine divisions at the Sheriff’s Office he oversees, the number of people working in each, what the county will look like if a May 21 levy is approved — or not — by voters and what the state might do if the governor declares the county to be in a public safety fiscal emergency.
He also addressed pending legislation, including House Bill 3453, which outlines how the state would operate the county’s services and bill it for the work done.
It would, if passed into law, allow the state to determine the county’s shortcomings in public safety arena and hire staff to get the job done to bring it up to adequate standards. The state could also apply a yet-to-be-determined surcharge on income taxes and take revenue collected for special districts to recoup the cost of providing the public safety services.
“These bills aren’t written for Curry County,” Bishop said. “They’re written for Josephine, Coos, Lane — we’re just the first. There are 17 others (O&C land counties) behind us. I don’t know if we’re a test case. If it passes it’ll be interesting.”
HB 3453 hasn’t yet been introduced in the House, and if it isn’t heard, it will die. Bishop said between 3,000 and 5,000 bills are introduced each legislative session, and between 150 and 800 become law. Most are merely to fix existing legislation.
“I’m not sure this one will make it,” Bishop said, adding that he believes the income tax surcharge portion of the bill would likely end up in court. County Commissioner David Itzen, however, said last week he thinks HB 3453 stands an “excellent” chance of being heard and passing.
Proponents of the May 21 local levy — numbered 8-71 since its approval at the state level — are using the bill to show people how bad off Curry County would be if the levy failed. Critics say it is merely a scare tactic.
Ballot measure 8-71 asks voters to increase property taxes by $1.84 per $1,000 assessed valuation for those who live in cities and $1.97 per $1,000 for those in unincorporated Curry County.
“They’re saying if we don’t take care of ourselves, somebody will,” Bishop said. “And it will be the state. They don’t want to come down here, but if they do, it will cost a lot more and be a lot less efficient.”
He compared the “threat” with that of Brookings’ sewer plant and the Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ told the city to update its facilities or the DEQ would, and bill the city for the cost. The city quickly made the improvements.
Bishop, who supported County Commissioner Susan Brown’s idea of a permanent levy for a law enforcement district, said there are few choices left to avert a financial catastrophe at the county level.
“First they legislated us out of logging,” he said. “Then they legislated us out of fishing. Then they legislated the gravel we take out of the mouth of the river. Then how a cow’s (dung) must be so many feet away from a stream. The O&C (agreement) isn’t honored any more.
“Why should we even cooperate with them?” he said. “You’ve taken away our livelihood.”
Biomass and fire
Bishop would like it if the Legislature — either state or federal — would allow people back into the woods, at least to collect forest material left after the Biscuit Fire.
“The Forest Service is extremely concerned about the fire danger by what’s left,” he said. “And we’re well due for another one, and a fire would just blow through the downed area.”
If people could collect material from the forest and use it for biofuel, it would provide jobs, reduce the fire danger in the area and provide the county with revenue.
“If we can’t clear that out (to make money), we won’t have (revenue to fund) a deputy to keep us safe,” Bishop said. “It’s a broken system, but it’s all we have.”
•The perception that the county has an abundance of new vehicles. He said that under the manufacturer’s warranty, a vehicle used for law enforcement is treated as if it has twice the mileage on it that it actually does. An officer serving papers Monday went to Port Orford in the morning, then on to Agness, Brookings and returned to Gold Beach — and entire day, and hundreds of miles on the car. And once that vehicle reaches 150,000 miles, it is too expensive to maintain to law enforcement requirements and often sold to other county departments.
•Possible home insurance policy premium increases if 8-71 fails. Bishop said he is still working to pin down exact numbers insurance coverage could increase if there is a decreased police presence in the event of a levy failure.
“I’ve been told — but can’t confirm — that in O’Brien and Selma, they’ve gone up by a factor of six,” he said. “Others have said they haven’t gone up at all.”
The difficulty in obtaining information is that the actuaries who prepare it for insurance companies declare it as proprietary information.
“We’ll pay here, or we’ll pay there,” he said, referring to the levy tax or insurance rates. “I can’t say that’s what’s going to happen, but it concerns me both personally and professionally.”
•Gun control proposals — none of which he thinks will come to fruition. Bishop said most gun-related injuries are caused by people suffering from mental illnesses, and that correlation was directly seen when federal funding was tapered down in the 1990s.
Topmost of citizens’ minds, as expected, were the repercussions of the outcome of 8-71.
He said the only way to provide adequate services is to determine what services the citizens want, what they’re willing to pay for them and compromise.
“We’re doing it piecemeal,” he said. “I don’t think that any way we slice it we can function. We’re at the point we’re all going to be forced to make that decision.”