GOLD BEACH Elected officials nearly outnumbered interested citizens, but the first town hall meeting hosted by the Curry County Commissioners in Brookings this week produced some lively arguments.

Debates sprang up over the number of deputies in the county and the county budget shortfall.

Every elected official from the county government attended the meeting Tuesday to explain what they do and to answer questions.

Sheriff Kent Owens gave a presentation on his new law levy. His plan would split the county into north and south for law enforcement purposes. The dividing line would be at Pistol River.

With one officer injured, Owens has had only five deputies since April to try to patrol the entire county.

The levy would pay for six additional deputies. With a total of 12, Owens would base six in each of the two districts to provide round-the-clock coverage.

Were committed to providing a level of service people will want to continue: courteous, professional, responsible service, he said.

The $2.5 million levy would add 32 cents per $1,000 in property value to taxes for five years. Owens said the big problem is finding $10,000 to run the levy election in May.

Owens previous levy attempt went down by 800 votes, mostly in the north and central county. He said if this one is also defeated, he wont ask again.

Brookings City Councilor Larry Curry asked Owens if regular patrol officers had to serve civil papers too.

Owens said they do, even though it is hard to fit into their schedules. He said some papers have to be served by officers. The department currently breaks even on the service charge for serving papers.

That money could be used to hire someone who only delivers papers, said Owens, but he would then lose one of the deputies who can do more than that.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said Owens is using the service charges to backfill the salary of a patrol deputy. The whole problem is we are down to so few deputies, she said.

Owens said he is running about $75,000 over budget this fiscal year.

Schafer said Owens must still pay the injured officer, even while he pays overtime to the remaining deputies to take up the slack.

District Attorney Charlie Steak said people dont realize officers must do more than patrol.

He said it takes time to transport prisoners, officially turn them over to the jail, and to write reports and fill out paperwork.

Owens said, People have the perception that when they call a deputy, that person comes out and is through.

He said when a deputy leaves a house, it may be only the start of hours or days of investigating and checking the statements of witnesses.

When that deputy drives away from your home, he said, His job is just beginning.

When the department is short-handed, said Owens, the deputies dont have time to complete their investigations, so criminals stay out on the streets and continue to victimize.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said the Port of Brookings Harbor is asking the legislature to allow citizens to vote for law enforcement by district.

If the law is changed, people within the port district could vote to contract with the sheriff for more deputies within that district.

Schafer said another option would be for the south county to form a law enforcement special district and contract with the sheriff.

Owens said that might be a last resort, but he said the deputies couldnt operate outside that district, even if they were needed.

One citizen like the special district idea.

We dont need more cops on (U.S. Highway) 101, he said. The good thing about the budget is there are no deputies on 101 lately.

There are no deputies on the river roads either, said Owens.

Im very happy with the level of service so far, said the man, I want the same or less. We live in a police state.

Retired police officer Dan Palicki said, I take offense to this gentleman.

You cant have enough officers, he said. You need the people out there. You dont know whats out there and who is out there. (The officers) are there to protect you and me.

He gave the example of the principal who was kidnapped in Hiouchi and stuffed into the trunk of a car. The mans life was saved by an alert Brookings police officer.

The man has my support, said Palicki of Owens. He said six deputies is just a stopgap measure.

Owens said, If you were out there in a patrol car you would see there are not enough deputies.

He said there are drug calls in the middle of the night and dangerous domestic disputes.

He said the deputies also back up officers in the cities and need backup in return. Officer safety is important, he said.

A second retired police officer said, Its pretty scary being out there all by yourself.

He asked if Owens had looked into having community service officers. Owens said that would be a problem with the union.

Another citizen said Owens should have 12 additional deputies, but understood it would be hard to support in a small county.

Owens said the county is 80 miles long. He said even 12 deputies are barely enough to provide 24-hour coverage.

Steak said those deputies must also handle other types of calls, such as child abuse cases. He said there is an enormous amount of child abuse in Curry County, with deputies working on three to five major cases at all times.

Steak said the cases usually involve sex with children under 12. Its emotionally draining, he said.

With new legislation forcing teachers, pastors and others to report child abuse, said Steak, someone has to check out every case. Unfortunately, he said, there usually is a problem.

As for the budget shortage in Curry County, Treasurer Patti Ingersoll said county government gets only 6.5 cents of every tax dollar collected. Schools and special districts get the rest.

A person with a $100,000 home pays $65 a year to support every county service.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said, The citizens are getting a lot of bang for their buck. She believed the countys tax base was last increased in 1948.

Schafer said increased federal timber payments will be coming in, but most of the first years payments will go to cover the overspending by the previous commissioners.

Besides that, she said, the county needs $700,000 for decaying 911 communication towers. State rules also require a sprinkler system be installed in the jail. Plus, said La Bont, union contracts are coming up and the county needs more building inspectors to keep its $6 million a year construction industry going.

One citizen suggested a motel tax in the county, but Commissioner Cheryl Thorp said that was tried and didnt make it past the motel owners.

One citizen said, Most people new to the area are happy with the property tax level.

But it shouldnt be the lowest in the state, said RV park manager Roger Thompson.