WBS topics include ARPA, housing, Airbnb

The Josephine County Commissioners’ plan to give the Sheriff’s Office $5.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act COVID relief dollars was discussed during their March 15 weekly business session, held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
Prompted by meeting frequenter Victor Zaitsev bringing up the $5.7 million “funding bomb” that JoCo Finance Director Sandy Novak informed the commissioners was coming their way in a recent meeting, Commissioner Dan DeYoung elaborated on the need to use this money to fund law enforcement.
“The ARPA funds can’t go anywhere, in my mind, other than the big nut to crack, (which) is law enforcement,” said DeYoung. “This is going to allow us to talk to the sheriff and find out what it would mean to him. He says he will be able to maintain between 14 and 18 patrol deputies.”
Without the ARPA funding, DeYoung went on, Sheriff Dave Daniel would have had to cut back patrol deputies to four by June 30.
However, “by no means is it stable funding,” DeYoung confessed. “We’re going to split it over the next two years… I think that’s where it needs to go. That’s where we as a board are scratching and opening up closet doors and looking behind bookshelves and stuff for every dime we can because law enforcement is definitely a priority with us three gentlemen.”
DeYoung said Daniel will not be able to fund any detectives or other positions “which a fully-funded Sheriff’s Office needs.”
“But we’re going to try to do the best we can with what we have,” the commissioner concluded.
The hot topic of homelessness was once again discussed at the meeting as well. Former commissioner candidate Mark Jones brought up the issue during requests and comments from citizens.

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He used the analogy of fixing a leaky pipe to explain his view that the ultimate solution for homelessness is solving the housing crisis. Removing tents and preventing people from camping under bridges and other public places is like putting duct tape on the leak, Jones contended, while ensuring more low cost housing would be like draining the water and replacing the pipe.

“We are in desperate need of more affordable housing and what I call starter homes,” Jones said. “I feel that we need to build these types of communities out in the county for the general public.”

Jones also called on the commissioners to consider changing zoning and development rules to enable developers to accomplish this development.

In response to Jones, the commissioners shed doubt on their ability to accomplish meaningful change where homelessness is concerned.

“There’s going to be homelessness before and after any money comes down from the state, and I don’t know how to fix it,” DeYoung remarked. “I’ve been working at this in public service for almost 14 years and it’s still here. In fact, it’s more vibrant than it was when I first came on board… I just hope it doesn’t become a way of life here rather than just a temporary problem.”

Board Chair Herman Baertschiger added, “There’s probably an ability to manage (homelessness) to some point but the likelihood of eliminating it is probably not in our future for the simple reason that it takes cooperation from the homeless. If you don’t have the cooperation of the homeless, you’re not going to have the ability to fix it.”

The last citizen to testify during requests and comments from citizens was JoCo Tourism Advisory Committee member Rebecca Anderson, who spoke about Airbnbs in the county and their potential role in the local economy.

Anderson advised that Airbnbs resulted in $171,185.09 in revenue for the city of Grants Pass through the city’s short-term rental tax. She called on the commissioners to institute code changes so that unlicensed Airbnbs can start contributing taxes to the county and “stimulate your economy,” because currently “Josephine County is not Airbnb friendly.”

DeYoung responded to Anderson by recounting the board’s effort a few years ago to get a transient lodging tax in place so that hotels and Airbnb rentals in unincorporated Josephine County would pay an 11% tax for visitors. This occurred when the board was composed of DeYoung, Darin Fowler and now-State Representative Lily Morgan.

“That (transient lodging tax) was shot down by the Hotel Motel Association,” DeYoung recalled. “They came down here and absolutely ripped the hide off my back, saying, ‘What are you doing? People are going to bypass Grants Pass and Josephine County because of what you’re doing.’ So we withdrew it.”

DeYoung also took a shot at the city of Grants Pass for raising their transient lodging tax not long after despite their concerns of tourists bypassing the region if a new tax was put in place.

“They bolstered their program and shot our program clear out of the water, which to me is not working together,” asserted DeYoung.