Citizens sound off on new tax

While the Josephine County Commissioners canceled their weekly business session for the week of Thanksgiving, all three commissioners assembled in Grants Pass’ Anne G. Basker Auditorium Wednesday, Nov. 15 to hear requests and comments from the citizenry.
“This is almost the shortest agenda I’ve seen since I’ve been a commissioner, so we’ll immediately go to comments from the citizens,” Board Chair Herman Baertschiger said at the outset of the meeting.
First to speak was Victor Zaitsev of Grants Pass. “Well, it looks like the property owners have once again been the victim of robbery by taxation with the passing of the public safety levy,” he commented. He went on to observe that half of rural county residents were not in favor of the tax, and that this tax “is not the end of the hand in the pocket of the property owner… it goes on and on and on.”
Zaitsev suggested that the animal shelter and any future fire district be combined into the same public safety funding stream. “Let’s see if the county will put our money where their mouth is and use those property owners’ tax dollars to make the difference promised,” he concluded.
Another commenter, who did not provide his name, said he voted against the tax due to the “fairness issue” that results in renters getting “representation without taxation.” This individual also floated the idea of charging a fee to anyone who needs law enforcement to respond to their residence on multiple occasions, and rejigger the law enforcement tax so that all citizens are charged equally, rather than by the assessed value of property they own.
Former sheriff candidate Jonathan Knapp expressed disappointment over low voter turnout in the recent election. “It’s a shame when only 30% of the voters take enough interest in Josephine County to vote,” he said.
Knapp shared the prior speaker’s opposition to charging taxes based on assessed property value: “My next door neighbor’s house is worth $100,000. It’s not going to cost the sheriff five times as much to come to my house as it is to go to the next door neighbor.” He urged the commissioners to make the fire district that is under consideration tax by square footage rather than value.

When it came time for commissioners to respond, Commissioner Dan DeYoung remarked, “I think everybody in the room and everybody in the county is not happy with taxation, but if you ask people – and I’ve asked a lot of people in the 14-15 years I’ve been poking around with this stuff in the city, county, doesn’t matter – ‘Where would you like to see your money go?’ Every one of them says public safety.”
“I don’t know if taxation is fair anywhere,” continued DeYoung. “However, what are you going to do to pay the bill when you have to ask a cop to come out in the middle of the night? He’s not going to do it for free. Volunteer policing doesn’t work.”
The commissioner also voiced his chagrin with individuals who are sharing their ideas for how to fund law enforcement now, after the levy passed, rather than months earlier when the commissioners were holding forums to gauge what citizens would like to see done.
“It always seems that there’s a whole list of great ideas that comes out the day after you voted for a tax increase,” he opined. “Where were you six months ago when everybody asked, ‘What would you like to see? How would you like to see it done? ‘We don’t hear from them until after the levy is passed or the property taxes are passed, then everybody says they’ve got a better idea.”

Commissioner John West followed up on a comment Zaitsev made about an ordinance cracking down on debris on public rights of way going into effect recently.

“The ordinance has gone through its timetable and the county’s getting ready to get started on this big process of cleaning up vehicles and stuff and so that’s underway. Some communities are going to see it a little faster than others. Wolf Creek I think is going to see a big, big difference in a hurry which is going to be great for them.”

“Everybody’s going to get to see it,” West continued. “We’re targeting some of the worst first areas and it’s long overdue but it’s time we get the ball rolling and get it done.”

Baertschiger said he was very concerned about the low voter turnout in Josephine County. “With that low turnout, I don’t know if I really have a true understanding of the sentiment of the people in Josephine County,” the board chair said.

He continued that he sees how it can be seen as unfair that only property owners are taxed, and that it makes sense to him that there was a time that only landowners were allowed to vote on matters of taxation.

Towards the end of the meeting, the vote to cancel the weekly business session scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving was unanimous, as staff informed the board there would be nothing on the agenda.

West wanted attendees to know they did not take the decision to take away their opportunity to have an audience with the commissioners lightly.

“I do want all the citizens to know that the commissioners do not take it lightly when we cancel this. If you were thinking about showing up to talk to us, we really appreciate that and we want to hear from you. It’s just the day before Thanksgiving, I really think a lot of people’s families are coming in and they’re going to see their family or whatever. So this isn’t a normal thing that we would do and we don’t take it lightly. We’re still reachable if you have something real important that you need to get to us on.”