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County faces tough choices

For the third time in recent years, Curry County voters on Tuesday rejected a property tax measure that would have funded the sheriff’s department and other county services. About 58 percent of voters were against the levy for $1.34 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

As things now stand, the county will run out of money next June. Layoffs of county employees by the end of December is a distinct possibility. 

The county had $1.4 million in tax revenues to spend this year. And most of that went to public safety, funding everything from the sheriff’s department to emergency management services.

County commissioners must decide what to do next. The 2013 Legislature gave them the ability to ask the state to step in, though the process isn’t easy nor quick and Curry County residents may not like the results.

In fact, for the state to take over, several things must happen to ensure full local and state support. Commissioners must ask the governor’s office for help, and leaders of both parties in both houses of the Legislature, as well as local lawmakers and the sheriff must be brought into the discussions.

The governor may impose an income-tax surcharge on Curry County residents and businesses to raise money for public safety services, with the state footing half the bill.

However, Curry is one of the most conservative and poorest counties in Oregon. Many residents would not take kindly to the idea of a new tax over which they had no say — even with state dollars attached.

Nor would the county commission be happy. Its members may be divided, but they are not ready for a state takeover just yet. They may yet ask voters to approve a revised property tax proposal in May.

For all the disagreements residents have over the county budget, the choices are quite clear: Live with a failed public safety system, approve higher property taxes, or seek a state or federal bailout.

As for other proposed  options, such as the elimination of commissioners’ salaries or a transient lodging taxes, it’s a matter of too little, too late.

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