Sheriff praises sales tax concept

The Josephine County Board of Commissioners embarked on a whopper of a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 3, which featured several public hearings on controversial matters facing the county.
A sizable crowd was drawn, and many individuals took the chance to comment on the potential institution of new taxes to provide long-term sheriff’s department funding.
“We have statutory requirements and timelines to adhere to,” said Board Chair Herman Baertschiger. “We have several public hearings on several concepts to fund law enforcement, and so we’re starting that process on all of these.”
He added, “Down the road we may withdraw some of these and one may kind of rise to the top.”
First up was consideration of forming a law enforcement taxing district covering all unincorporated areas of Josephine County as well as the city of Cave Junction.
CJ City Council voted to opt in to the sheriff district should it be moved forward by the commissioners and approved by voters in November.
JoCo legal counsel Wally Hicks explained that this district “would be a separate governmental body” but still under the purview of the commissioners.
“The district has been proposed to be formed with a permanent base tax rate of $1.87 per $1,000 of assessed value,” Hicks remarked.
Hicks also pointed out that the county assessor has estimated the district would accumulate $10 million in taxes, all of which would be designated to law enforcement.
As is the case whenever new taxes are proposed, some vocal opponents lined up behind the podium in objection.
Several speakers voiced their concerns about the timing of the proposed new district with inflation mounting. One person opined, “This is absolutely the wrong time to be looking at this kind of endeavor.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung put forth a rebuttal to a citizen who doubted the district would solve the problem of funding law enforcement: “This has never been tried the way it is being tried today.
“I think law enforcement across the county is very important no matter what it is. If we don’t have a sheriff’s office because we haven’t funded a sheriff’s office, then basically, I don’t know if we can protect the folks that come here to visit. And if that word ever gets out, because it seems to get out quite readily, I don’t know if that would affect our tourism industry.”
Commissioner Darin Fowler added, “We wanted to try to put everything on the table. We promised months ago that we were going to try to get it all on the table so we can all have a look at it and decide what has the best chance of passing.”
DeYoung admitted that the service district will not be the solution he is throwing his support behind.
“I will not be in favor of voting for this because it is a huge, huge property tax increase,” DeYoung said. “I think there are other things on the table that could probably cover this and much, much more.”
Fowler had a similar take, saying that the idea of a district passing in November is “drying up.”
“I don’t think, if this is what we decided to put on the ballot that it would pass.
“I want to get on to discussions that I think have a chance of success. It’s not the golden goose and it’s not the easiest path by far, but I don’t think this is the one.”
All three commissioners voted against furthering the law enforcement district to a second hearing.
With the service district proposal effectively dead and buried, the board moved on later in the meeting to a public hearing on a seasonal sales tax to support law enforcement.
Hicks referred to the sales tax as the Law Enforcement Retail Activities Tax, AKA LARET.
“The purpose of the ordinance is to impose a tax on retail activities that occur in Josephine County that occur between April 15 and Oct. 15 every year,” said Hicks. “The revenue from this tax would be used exclusively for the provision of law enforcement services, including related administrative expenses.”
Hicks said the number in the ordinance draft is 3% of the cost of retail activities being taxed. This number was landed on after review of a recent financial analysis.
A retail activities tax board consisting of three members would also be formed if voters approve the sales tax. The city governments of Grants Pass and Cave Junction would each appoint one member; the board of commissioners would appoint the third.
The commissioners were much more optimistic about the chances of the sales tax passing in the November election than the service district.
“We can’t see from these seats another method to fund law enforcement that is acceptable to our voters,” said Fowler. “This is where we are in my mind… Let’s get into all the druggies’ pockets and get them to pay a tax. Because there’s a cash society there that we know is pretty large, and so let’s capture some of that money.
“Let’s get off of your property tax and into some people that are spending money. And it stays away from the prescription drugs, from the food you need. (The sales tax) does not hit anybody particularly hard.”
The board voted unanimously to advance the seasonal sales tax proposal to a second hearing scheduled for Aug. 10 at 9 a.m.
Following the vote, Sheriff Dave Daniel remarked to the commissioners, “This is a great day. You three take a lot of heat, but you’re doing something I have not seen in 30 years of law enforcement here in Josephine County. You’re making a difference; making a change, potentially.
“I’m passionate about my career. I’m very passionate about my community. I raised my kids here. I applaud you for going forward with this potential seasonal sales tax concept. I think it’s an answer, and I think it’s long overdue.”