Public safety funding crisis

, Written by Jennifer Elliott, Posted: Tue, March 18 2014 at 1:01 PM, Updated: Tue, March 18 2014 at 1:08 PM

It's being called a public safety crisis... counties across Oregon are pinching pennies to keep jails, police, and sheriff's departments running.


"Like Columbia and Curry that are seriously considering closing their jails. Josephine county is probably about a year away from being in scenario without an alternative  funding stream," says Josephine County Commissioner Simon Hare. He helped organize a public safety meeting on Tuesday, as his cash strapped county joins a host of others facing losses to their criminal justice programs. Jackson, Josephine, Curry, Coos, and Douglas county officials met at the Jackson county sheriff's office. They are brainstorming ideas to solve budget woes. Hare says, these are just possible solutions and not final decisions, "We're looking at the whole tools in the tool box to fund these programs without taxing."

"The loss of federal timber payments has had a tremendous impact on 18 O&C counties. But it's also had an impact on other counties," says Association of Counties Communications Manager, Eric Schmidt. Loss of timber funds is a what he says is the main reason behind the funding fiasco that extends across the state. Schmidt says because property taxes are capped it's necessary to get creative.        

Representatives looked at ways to lobby state and federal lawmakers for help. They are also considering consolidating public safety programs and regionalizing services that each department cannot support on it's own, for example: Hazmat teams.

That doesn't mean taxing wasn't considered. One idea that gained some traction: a gas tax. The potential solution with the largest backing: asking to re-instate the 1937 O&C Land act.. which Schmidt says would gain traction in some counties and virtually none in others.

Those in attendance say something must be done. Oregon's governor can now declare a public safety fiscal emergency if things get too bad.

"We are going to do everything we can to avoid that. We like local control," says Hare

Here are the main suggestions made by each county:

 Jackson:
1) Regionalization of specialized services
2) Re-appropriating mental health providers
3) Tax reform
4) Drug and Alcohol treatment

Josephine:
1) Local lottery initiative
2) Remove endangered species act with an exemption for O&C Lands
3) Equipment and training standardization
4) Court security changes

Curry:
1) Local gas tax for public safety
2) Fully funded sheriff's mandates
3) Allocating 100% of Transient Lodging Tax to public safety
4) Lottery initiative
5) Beer and wine tax for public safety.

Coos:
1) Changing federal forest management to create stability
2) Changing who takes on mental health

Douglas:
1) Institute and support 1937 O&C act
2) Ask the Governor to re-invigorate the task force
3) Re-visit a sales tax

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About the Author

Jennifer Elliott

Jennifer Elliott anchors the primetime newscast FOX26 First News at Ten on NBC5’s partner station, KMVU/FOX26. She also reports for NBC5 News.

Jennifer began her career at NBC5 News in 2011 as a production assistant. Raised in Southern Oregon, she studied voice and piano while attending South Medford High School.

After graduating from Brigham Young University-Idaho, she returned home and added organ playing to her music repertoire. In addition to her musical talents, Jennifer is an award winning artist.

She has also co-hosted Southern Oregon’s Got Talent, the area’s premiere talent show. Jennifer is married and the mother of two young sons who keep her busy and very happy.

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