County delays advisory survey

Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer February 28, 2014 06:51 pm

Curry County commissioners decided Wednesday to delay distributing “advisory” questions with the upcoming May ballot, but instead to wait and send them in a mass mailing later in the year so as to not confuse voters.

Advisory ballot questions are basically surveys questioning voters if they are in favor of municipalities pursuing certain issues or asking for their opinion about issues elected officials might be interested in placing on a future ballot.

Commissioners initially considered the idea earlier this month in hopes of placing inside the May ballot a list of survey questions to determine if, among other issues, voters would support a property tax increase whose revenue would only go to public safety, a county-wide transient lodging tax and a gas tax and change in state law to redirect those revenues to county coffers.

If they had decided to forge ahead with the idea, they would have had to hold a special meeting Thursday to meet yesterday’s (Feb. 28) deadline.

Commissioner Susan Brown said she worried voters might get confused if such a survey were included in an envelope with official ballot questions.

Josephine County is experimenting the idea with a “door tax” it might propose to fund its sheriff’s office. That door, or address tax, would entail assessing a flat fee of $144 per address to fund public safety, citing that every citizen — and not just property owners — use the sheriff’s office services.

Like Curry County, Josephine County has struggled to get voters to approve any form of tax measure to bolster its county coffers since federal timber subsidies ended in 2012.

Josephine County voters face another tax measure this May — costing an extra $238 a year for a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 — that would raise $8 million for the jail and juvenile departments.

“Josephine County has been getting some really good information by doing this,” said Commissioner David Itzen. “From a political science standpoint, this is the purest form of surveying voters. Voters can sit in the privacy of their own home and look at the problem and make a decision if they’d favor (a potential ballot measure).”

Of primary interest to the board is whether voters would support a property tax increase of 68 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation proposed by Sheriff John Bishop and whose revenues would specifically be directed to fund the jail.

Two similar measures in Curry County were rejected by voters last year; Curry County has the second-lowest permanent property tax rate in the state, at 59 cents per $1,000 valuation. Josephine County has the lowest, at 58 cents per $1,000 valuation.

And while all involved could use such information as soon as it could be gathered, Bishop cautioned the board to wait.

“At the risk of offending a lot of people, I’d look real close at copying anything Josephine County does,” he said. “A lot of it hasn’t worked. It’s been a mess — they’re a mess.

“And I’d be awful careful about pushing this through just for the sake of pushing this through. We have two days. We could make a mistake that could really hurt us.”

Legally, there is nothing preventing the commissioners from submitting such a survey in voter ballots. But it’s even simpler to merely submit questionnaires to all registered voters to get their ideas, said County Clerk Reneé Kolen.

“In the 28 years I’ve been clerk, we have not put an advisory question on a ballot; this is new,” she said. “I want to make sure we get it right. We’re on new ground, for me.”

Bishop said he’d not only like to see how Josephine County’s endeavor pans out, allow more time to craft survey questions and not put the advisory questions in with the May legislative ballot  — but not include it in the November legislative ballot, either.

“I’m opposed to putting a tax measure on the November ballot in general,” he said. “It’s ludicrous for a tax measure to go to the voters in November when everyone gets their tax bill. I see my tax bill and then you ask me to pay for more taxes? You’re just telling me to vote no.”

In other news

Commissioner David Itzen said he plans to call Brookings’ bluff and forge ahead and hold a so-called “kumbaya” meeting for which the city of Brookings declined to help pay earlier this week.

Itzen proposed to the city council that the county and its three cities hire a facilitator to help the entities mend their bridges so they can better work together; the city unanimously said spending the $1,950 requested of them would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Why don’t we get together for lunch? Or hold a beer summit — whatever?” Councilor Kelly McClain asked Itzen at a Brookings City Council meeting Monday night.

Itzen said Wednesday he might have an anonymous donor to cover the cities’ half of the $6,000 cost for the facilitator.

“I think I might have it covered,” he told his fellow commissioners. “Then I’d like to go back the city and tell them I got the money. Then that issue disappears. Let’s see if we can work together.”