If public comment is any indication regarding next Tuesday’s ballot questions, there are fewer sabers rattling and more shoulders shrugging than there were in the weeks leading up to the May election.
Then, county commissioners asked voters to approve a property tax increase of $1.84 per $1,000 assessed valuation for those living in cities and $1.97 per $1,000 for those living in unincorporated Curry County. Revenue raised was to fund county coffers, which were about $3.5 million short since federal timber payments ended last year.
But the measure failed, with voters saying they were “taxed out,” they wanted the county to “live within its means,” and that people living on fixed incomes can’t afford an increase in anything.
Commissioners crafted a new proposition: a property tax hike of $1.34 per $1,000 assessed valuation — just to keep the public safety department functioning at current levels.
And people are still not sold on the idea — for the same reasons indicated in May, most said at various coffee klatches around town this week.
“Not from everything I hear about it,” said Dee Johnson, owner of Dee-Ann’s Tea Room Cafe. “People are saying, ‘Nope; I didn’t vote for it. Nope; I didn’t vote for it;’ I kind of feel like everyone else.”
A group of seven Brookings-area women meeting there for lunch agreed — but ironically, most said they’d be voting for the measure.
“I think it’ll be defeated — not by a huge amount, but because there are so many people on fixed incomes,” said Sharon Garinger. “It might (pass), because it’s specific; it’s only going to support public safety. But it’s always been voted down before. …”
Her friend, Pat Riddle, agreed.
“It’ll go down because people here are so conservative; they don’t think it’s necessary,” she said. “The commissioners need to work within their budget, just like we do.”
Voters in May — and some now, as well — cited fixed incomes, high taxes in place already and what they believe were “scare tactics” regarding repercussions if the measure failed. Others said they didn’t see the value of increased sheriff’s patrols, or that commissioners needed to put “some skin in the game” and cut their paychecks, as well.
“Nobody wants taxes, but we do need protection,” Garinger admitted. “It’s like the schools. We don’t have kids in school anymore, but you still need schools.”
Nicki Edwards was the sole diner at the table who thought the measure would succeed.
“We need more protection and people want to support their officers,” she said. “I think there are more people that support the measure than we give credit for.”
Iona Trapp said her husband was voting for the measure — and she might, too.
“But it isn’t fair, because it doesn’t spread the services from the cities to the country,” she said. “Services don’t go out to country folk.”
Polly Keusink, enjoying a cup of tea with her husband, Dick, and daughter Ellen Babin, said she hopes the measure passes, but doesn’t think it will.
“And I haven’t made up my mind,” Dick said. “I can’t balance what the county wants to do with what it’s really worth.”
“I know we need public services, but for homeowners, it hurts,” said Anne Cruz, a 23-year Brookings resident enjoying a coffee at Fred Meyer’s Starbucks. “Taxes are killing us, and homeowners take the brunt of it.”
Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog, who has opposed all the revenue solution ideas the county has presented, agrees.
“They’ve got to get this (rate) down under a buck or so,” he said. “People don’t have the money. It may be 25 percent or more of Curry County citizens are subsistence residents; they can’t afford another $500 more a year in taxes — it doesn’t matter how essential it is.”
Currently, Curry County residents pay the lowest tax rate in Oregon, at 59 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, for which the county collects about $2.1 million a year. If voters approve ballot Measure 8-73, it will raise an additional $3.2 million for public safety, including the jail, Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney and juvenile services.
Hospital vs. county
A second major measure posed to voters in the north end of the county is a $10 million general obligation bond to build a new hospital in Gold Beach and make improvements to the clinic in Port Orford.
In the opinion of county commissioners, that timing couldn’t be worse.
County Commissioner chair David Brock Smith has often noted that when there is more than one tax question on any given ballot, the likelihood increases that all of them will fail.
And when Curry County Animal Shelter Director Catherine Powers died earlier this month, many said her death increased the chances that the hospital measure would pass — and likely, at the expense of the county’s ballot measure.
If true, voters at the south end of the county will have to carry the county tax measure.
“The hospital sounds like it’ll pass,” said Bob Chester of Gold Beach. “Good luck with the rest of them. We’re taxed out. And people vote down taxes; the economy is just too bad.”
If the county measure fails, the county will be down to $1 million — having “borrowed” from its road and workman’s compensation reserve funds — come springtime, forcing county commissioners to post yet another tax measure on the May 2014 ballot, Smith said.
But that didn’t seem to concern those who offered comment about the issue.
“We have loaded guns out in the country,” Trapp said. “We have lots of loaded guns.”