It has been abnormal as of late for Board of Josephine County Commissioners’ meetings to be brief, with such critical matters as deciding on a newspaper of record, drastic budget cuts and defunding the Oregon State University Extension Service drawing large crowds and lengthy debates in recent months.
However, the June 14 BCC weekly business session was indeed concise and featured an abbreviated agenda, running just over half an hour.
The primary topic of discussion was the upcoming vote on a new service district to fund the JoCo Sheriff’s Office and why it has become necessary to put it on the November ballot.
Merlin resident Bill Hunker kicked off the debate during requests and comments from citizens, downplaying what he called the county’s insistence that “we must act immediately or the sky will fall.”
“There used to be a sign in my grandfather’s print shop that read, ‘Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part,’” Hunker quipped. “With the current push for an additional funding stream of 99 cents per thousand the sheriff is attempting to more than double his general funding to $1.92 per thousand. I followed the budgeting process with the sheriff’s office since 2012 : never once has there been a clearly delineated plan for what the public will be getting for their money. The latest 99 cents per thousand pitch is not predicated on any actual plan but rather on the fear that the public never votes yes on anything over a dollar.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung pushed back on Hunker’s assertion that Sheriff Dave Daniel has not clearly communicated how taxpayers’ money is spent: “There’s a little bit more to it than just stepping up to the microphone and saying, ‘I don’t understand what it goes for,’ because I think you really do: It all goes to patrol,” remarked DeYoung.
“The reason we have a jail levy and we have to come up every few years is because the people won’t pass solid funding and stable funding,” DeYoung added. “I hear it all the time: ‘I pay my taxes; I should have full police protection.’ Well, guess what? Your taxes don’t pay for full police protection.”
DeYoung mourned what could have been when he recounted the “remarkably shot down” seasonal sales tax that was defeated by voters last November, with over 80% voting against it.
“Now we’re back to the table again with just the taxpayers and just the people and landowners in Josephine County covering the bill while people traveling in and out of here with California plates, Washington plates and Arizona plates aren’t paying a dime, although they’re using those facilities and they expect those facilities when they come here. They expect law enforcement; they expect to be protected while they’re visiting our county. And I think it’s our obligation to try to meet that for them.”
DeYoung also reminded the audience that the reason “the sky didn’t fall” as it pertains to law enforcement after the sales tax failed was because an American Rescue Plan Act grant of $5.8 million was discovered that bought another year of law enforcement services before drastic cuts would be required.
“I think it’s high time we bail ourselves out,” DeYoung concluded. “We’re behind our sheriff 100% of the way and that’s why we’ve referred it to the voter.”
The citizens and the sheriff have come together,” Commissioner John West added. “I believe that it would not be wise for this board to be making that type of decision if we were able to. I believe that it would be best to let the citizens make that decision and so that’s who come up with this is citizens and the sheriff.”
Board Chair Herman Baertschiger remarked, “Levies don’t work real good because we’re having trouble with employee retention. There’s a shortage of peace officers across the country and so when somebody comes to work here they go, ‘Wow.’ You know, if they don’t renew the levy in five years we’re losing them; they’re going to other places.”
Baertschiger also called Josephine County “the canary in the coal mine” as it relates to the toll inflation is taking on local economies. Due to larger reserve funds, Baertschiger explained that most other Oregon counties have not had to scramble to maintain service levels like JoCo has.
“There’s always this balance of how much money the citizens are willing to pay and what kind of services are they willing to accept,” observed the board chair. “It’s a constant balance but I will tell you, not having law enforcement in the rural areas of Josephine County, I think would be very dangerous.”
Baertschiger’s concluding remark was, “The cost of doing business for Josephine County is scaring the hell out of me.”
The only agenda item that required action at the June 14 meeting was appointments to the county’s Cannabis Advisory Committee. Carrie Boltz and Sarah Dinsdale were both appointed to two-year terms.
Other matters addressed at the meeting included trash in public spaces and strategies for keeping crime out of public parks.
Meeting frequenter Judy Ahrens said she was recruiting community members for a “cleanup committee.”
“What I’m basically looking for and begging is for designated drivers on certain days where I could pop out of the car and just pick up the trash,” Ahrens said.
Commissioner West was concerned about the safety of Ahrens’ plan: I would not ask anybody to open their door and pop out of their car. That somebody could get run over and I would think that might not work out well. We don’t need bodies. I’d rather have cups than bodies.”
Another meeting frequenter, Mark Jones, pitched an ordinance to the commissioners that would see criminals who are convicted of crimes on public parks banned from entering that park for a certain amount of time.
“What this would do is it would exclude access to public property and parks throughout the whole county for people who are in violation of these things so it may be something worthwhile looking at,” Jones asserted.
DeYoung agreed with Ahrens’ and Jones’ concerns about blight in local spaces, saying, “If your town looks unkempt it usually passes along that it is.”