GRANTS PASS — Voters in the heart of Oregon timber country were voting down a tax increase to make up for the loss of federal timber subsidies and fund public safety.
With 68 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night in Josephine County, no votes were at 57 percent and yes votes at 43 percent.
Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says the failure of the $12 million annual levy will force sheriff's patrols and prosecutors to be cut to the bone by the end of the month. About 100 jail inmates will have to be released to get down to the new limit of 30.
The four-year levy would increase the tax rate by $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value to fund the Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office and Juvenile Justice Center operations.
A similar levy was rejected in 2008.
Josephine County's current tax rate is 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the lowest among Oregon's 36 counties.
Gilbertson has predicted that without the levy or additional money from the federal government, the juvenile justice center will close and rural patrols will be downsized to the sheriff and three contract deputies.
With surrounding counties facing similar budget cuts, Gilbertson and other law enforcement officials fear Southern Oregon could become a haven for crime.
Urban areas such as Grants Pass and Medford will still have law enforcement, but outlying areas will see more criminal activity over time, Medford police Chief Tim George has said.
"The lack of law enforcement pressure invites people in rural areas to conduct illegal activity," he said, adding it's not uncommon for criminals to cross back and forth between the two counties.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters has said he fears the defeat of the levy in Josephine County not only will increase crime but vigilantism as residents arm themselves because of a lack of sheriff's patrols.
"It will look like the old West in a few years," he said in April.
Josephine was the only county asking voters to increase taxes to make up the loss of the timber money.