Some Port Orford officials and residents lamented the possible demise of the Port Orford Police Department at a town hall meeting Tuesday, while others questioned the legitimacy of a “second chance to get what you want” after losing an election.
A town hall was held by city officials to offer voters factual information about the levy, according to Mayor Tim Pogwizd. He said citizens had questions and concerns about a special election scheduled for March offering voters a second chance to pass a levy to support the Port Orford Police Department.
According to Chief County Deputy Clerk Shelley Denney, the city called for a special election to be held March 12 after the levy failed in November.
City councilors, Pogwizd and business owners touted the benefits of the police department. The council and Pogwizd blamed themselves for the failure of the November levy, citing confusing language on the ballot and their failure to communicate with the public.
Pogwizd said voters he spoke with mistook the new $1.80 levy as an addition to the $1.90 police levy already in place rather than a replacement for that levy when it expired. He said the proposed levy lowered the rate by 10 cents but feared voters thought they were nearly doubling their tax rate.
“Council has reached a consensus that we cannot have a functioning police department without the levy,” Councilor James Garratt said.
Garratt and business owner Jeff MacFarlane noted the sheriff’s department, 30 miles away in Gold Beach, would be responsible for law enforcement in Port Orford if the levy failed again, and the longer response times created by that distance could put Port Orford residents in danger.
While officials complimented the work of the sheriff’s department, Pogwizd said, “If the levy fails, we all hope the sheriff can step it up, but they are cash-strapped as well.”
Other officials said police presence causes people to “react accordingly” and creates a safer city.
Councilor and business owner Travis Williams said it was of “great importance” for the community to feel safe.
The benefits of the city’s traffic officer were explained by Police Chief Hank Hobart, who said traffic in Port Orford was always a problem because U.S. 101 runs through town and “people want to drive through here at 50 miles an hour.”
Citing an investigative backlog that had developed prior to his arrival in the city, he said the situation in town was “ugly” in 2014 and 2015.
He said currently, with four officers, the city is statistically where it should be in terms of crime.
Multiple residents lauded the department with stories of officers helping during health emergencies or going door-to-door to warn residents when a crime had occurred nearby.
Former Port Orford councilor Brett Webb said he has started a PAC to promote passage of the levy, and members of the PAC spoke in support of passage and collected money to create signs supporting the levy.
Philip Dickson, who moderated the event, encouraged people to go to their neighbors, work their streets and help pass the levy.
In November, voters in Port Orford turned down the ballot question to renew its property tax levy for police protection.
City councilors along with Hobart noted the new levy actually lowered the rate, even though the ballot wording said it would likely raise residents’ property taxes by more than 3 percent.
The November 2018 ballot question read: Shall the city levy $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value for police operations for five years beginning in FY 2019-2020? This measure may cause property taxes to increase more than 3 percent.
The current five-year levy expires July 1 and taxes residents at a rate of $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The levy proposed for the March election reads: Shall the city replace the expiring police levy with a reduced levy of $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value? This measure renews current local option taxes.
The March ballot summary clarifies that the motion must carry in an election with at least 50 percent voter turnout, is to fund the Port Orford Police Department and if the levy is not enacted, the city will eliminate the police department.
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