After voting last month to grant Sheriff Dave Daniel’s request that they consider referring a law enforcement service district to fund the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office to this November’s election, the Board of Commissioners voted to set a pair of public hearings to this effect at their June 7 weekly business session.
Sheriff Daniel was running late to the meeting on law enforcement business, so JoCo legal counsel Wally Hicks stepped up to the podium to explain the gist of the service district proposal.
“Going back many years,” Hicks remarked, “several ideas for law enforcement funding have been presented or at least discussed by the Board of Commissioners and others who are interested in this topic, and at this point the proposal that is being considered today is one that would initiate the formation of a law enforcement service district. This would be a district that is a permanent type of district and would have a permanent funding rate assigned to it going forward.
“This is not unprecedented in Oregon. Deschutes County actually does have two law enforcement districts from what I understand and those are governed just as this one would be by the governing body of the county and they bring in a permanent source of revenue for that county’s purposes. Without trying to talk too much about Deschutes, but just to suggest that my understanding of how they do it is they have two, one of which is a county-wide which covers a jail type of services and there is more or less a ‘donut district’ that excludes the city of Bend but does cover rural types of law enforcement operations. This type of district is the latter, it’s one that would be, I guess you’d call it a ‘donut district’ as the city of Grants Pass and the properties contained therein would not be part of this district. It would be exclusively the more rural portions of the county.”
However, Hicks noted that the Cave Junction City Council voted to opt in to the service district, and CJ Council President Jean Ann Miles was in attendance to explain why.
“We were given a letter from you folks that was dated May 25 and we needed to have a special meeting and get word back to you by June 2,” Miles recounted. Because it was a holiday weekend, the earliest the council could pull this off was by Zoom Tuesday, May 30. She expressed gratitude for Sheriff Daniel’s willingness to call into this virtual meeting.
“As citizen governors of this county we expressed real concern about the idea of our commissioners being the governing body of that special district,” said Miles, “to the point that by the time we were off the phone the sheriff said that he would do what he could to get an elected body of citizens and that made us feel a little bit better because I’ll be honest with you: We often feel we’re not represented by our commissioners. We get to see you so infrequently and anymore it’s going to be a matter of me coming here, I think.”
The council president concluded, “The reason we went along with it wasn’t because we were thrilled with what it said; it’s because our citizens must have law enforcement services. We have a lot of grows out in our area and a lot of cartels and a lot of people that would do us harm if we did not have sufficient law enforcement.”
Hicks confirmed that a provision was indeed added to the service district proposal that would see a citizens advisory committee appointed by the commissioners that would advise the service district board on “budgeting, enforcement, priorities and general operation of the district,” according to Hicks.
The service district’s taxation rate would be $0.99 per $1,000 assessed property value. The legal counsel reiterated that according to Oregon law, a taxation rate is permanent once it is assigned to a taxing district.
Prompted by a question from Commissioner Dan DeYoung, Hicks explained that, interestingly, a voter-approved levy can be instituted to increase the revenue brought in for law enforcement, but unlike the initial service district, it must be applied countywide, meaning the city of Grants Pass cannot be carved out of such a levy.
The sheriff was able to join the meeting later on and explained his initial tardiness was due to being involved with serving yet another illegal marijuana search warrant.
“What a surprise,” Board Chair Herman Baertschiger remarked.
Daniel said that employee retention is crucial in the Sheriff’s Office, and having a permanent revenue source would greatly improve the capacity for retention and recruitment.
“I’ve lost nine deputies in the last two and a half, almost three years and that’s to the tune of about $800,000 of taxpayer money that has just gone to waste and they’re not leaving because they don’t want to work for this community; they love this community. They’re leaving because they have families, they have mortgages, they have car payments and that is to a certain extent a large portion of this issue,” the sheriff said.
“My ultimate goal is to try and find some stable funding – even more precisely, stable income – for our deputies that go out there every day and, just like this morning, put their lives on the line for this community that we love,” said Daniel. “It’s time to fix something that’s broken and we have that opportunity, ladies and gentlemen.
“I ask that the citizens of Josephine County come into the trenches with me and join me after 29 years of blood and sweat and tears and bloody knuckles. Join me. We could do good for our county, we could do good for our visitors, we can help the business economy, we can help tourism and make this place a safe place to go.”
Following Sheriff Daniel’s remarks, Baertschiger thanked him for his time and stated, “Josephine County has a tight budget and we’re running really lean but I’m very happy on all of our departments. Every single one; they’re running lean but they’re running, they’re functioning and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do with the exception of the Sheriff’s Office. That is the weak link in Josephine County right now and so I hope everybody gives us some considerable thought.”