Curry County Sheriff John Bishop will outline his ideas to generate revenue for the jail, criminal and civil divisions and consolidating 911 services at a meeting Monday before the Brookings City Council.
He will also show council members why an idea to contract with Coos County for jail beds is not feasible.
The Board of Commissioners has worked for more than a year to develop ideas to generate revenue to fill a shortfall in the general fund budget that developed after federal timber subsidies were slashed in 2012. Some emergency allocations have been made from the federal government, but they are far from the $35 million or so the county received each year in the 1980s and 1990s.
Two property tax measures on ballots last year failed, and projections indicate that if a revenue source is not found soon, the county could be forced to close its doors by mid-year.
Bishop has often said it is his job to ensure the community is safe, but it is the commissioner’s job to find the money to enable him to do so.
Recognizing their struggle to develop a successful plan, Bishop last month said he’d crafted one of his own, and shared it with commissioners last month. The board unanimously agreed he should pursue it.
Keeping the jail open
Bishop’s first priority is to keep the jail open, and he proposes to do so by getting approval for a property tax increase of 68 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.
“If we staff the jail correctly and fund it separately, I think we can have an operational jail in a sustainable budget for the foreseeable future,” Bishop said. “By doing this, we can take some of the pressure off of the general fund and keep what I feel is the hub for the entire public safety system. Everyone needs the jail and what it contributes to a lawful society.”
Revenue generated from the tax increase would only be spent on jail expenses — and would only go into effect after a vote of the citizens. Bishop said that, while it is possible to get such a measure to voters by the November elections, he’d prefer to wait until next spring.
In a presentation he will share with the council, he said he derived the 68-cent figure by examining the county’s current budget and yearly trends.
Jail revenue is expected to be about $298,000, but personnel costs currently are about $1.46 million. That includes 16 deputies, one lieutenant, one nurse and a maintenance employee. That would cover the jail, the command and control center, court security and prisoner transportation.
Other expenses are projected to be $275,000 for materials and supplies and $111,000 for administrative services for a total of $1,548,790.
A 68-cent per $1,000 assessed valuation — and the 93 percent collection rate the county currently experiences — would net the county $1,631,709, leaving about $83,000 for contingencies and building repairs, Bishop said.
Part of the proposal would involve closing the sheriff’s 911 center, transferring some employees to full-time work in the jail and others to the Brookings 911 facility.
“Consolidating dispatch could save up to an additional $500,000, depending on how the agreements are worked out,” Bishop said. “This has the potential to take $1.5 million from public safety and return to the general fund for other parts of the county (budget).”
The 68-cent tax hike would cover these services, Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman wrote in a report to the council.
According to Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace, this would require an increase in the Brookings communications center staff by three or four employees. The city would receive additional 911 revenue but, Milliman noted, several agencies — primarily those in the north end of the county — would have to end their contracts with the county and sign new ones with the city.
“There are a number of technical and labor issues to be addressed,” Milliman said.
A third part of Bishop’s proposal is to consider a gas tax whose revenue would fund the civil and criminal division within the sheriff’s office. At this point, Milliman noted, the idea is conceptual because state law currently requires all gas tax revenue be used to fund street maintenance and repairs.
“This would take some changes in the law, but if we could adequately fund this division with this money, the money saved from the jail, communications and criminal would go a long way in funding the rest of the county,” Bishop said. “At minimum, this would give us some time to make things permanent and sustainable for the years to come, without relying on the federal government.”