Law levy has a cost, but so do alternatives

March 13, 2010 05:00 am

Faced with a very unpleasant reality, the Curry County commissioners have decided to ask voters for a five-year tax levy to support law enforcement services.

In a county where rock-bottom property taxes and sky-high Republican voter registrations are almost trademarks, there are very low expectations for voter approval.

But before voters simply say “heck no” to the law enforcement levy, they need to take a long and hard look at the alternatives and consequences. In short, a no vote might be “penny wise and pound foolish.”

First, it’s very clear that the county does not have the kind of law enforcement protection that citizens expect. There are times when there are no sheriff’s deputies on duty, when we might call for help but no one is available. When there is police help, there are not enough resources to prosecute every crime that is reported. And when there are referrals to the juvenile department or jail sentences to be served, there are not enough resources to handle the job safely, legally and effectively.

When voters count the savings on their property tax bills, do they subtract the cost of not having police protection, and not catching or prosecuting the criminals?

Then there are those who will second-guess the county officials and citizens committee that has reviewed the options.

Can we merge the city and county police agencies? Yes, but realistically, Brookings residents are not likely to give up services to save money for Harbor neighbors.

Can we book space in other jails? Yes, but the costs would be higher, especially when you add in transportation.

Can other county agencies be scrapped or cut to provide funds for law enforcement? No, between mandated services and state or federal grants, there’s no money to shift to law enforcement.

Frankly, there’s every chance that conditions are so bad in the county jail and with our county law enforcement that a lawsuit could place the jail, or other law enforcement services, in state or federal receivership.

That’s right: Outsiders could take over, and levy a property tax to pay the bills – with no control by voters.

That’s why county officials are offering this levy as a chance for voters to take control of the situation.

In turn, voters need to honestly weigh the question. Yes, this levy has a cost, but so do the alternatives – and those costs might be higher.