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MailTribune.com
  • A question of fairness

    Josephine County is using more than its share of Oregon State Police resources
  • When the subject of Josephine County's lack of law enforcement comes up, it's tempting for Jackson County residents to feel relieved that our local government is still able to provide 24-hour sheriff's patrols. But Josephine County residents' refusal to pay for police protection is having a definite impact here.
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  • When the subject of Josephine County's lack of law enforcement comes up, it's tempting for Jackson County residents to feel relieved that our local government is still able to provide 24-hour sheriff's patrols. But Josephine County residents' refusal to pay for police protection is having a definite impact here.
    Dwindling federal timber payments have left Josephine County unable to operate its jail at full capacity or to provide adequate sheriff's patrols. Voters there, who pay the lowest county government property tax rate in the state, at 58 cents per $1,000 assessed value, have rejected requests to step up and provide for their own protection — most recently last May.
    If that refusal affected only Josephine County residents, that would be one thing. But it doesn't.
    A report from the Grants Pass Daily Courier, published in Wednesday's Mail Tribune, described the increased load on Oregon State Police troopers, who are responding to calls the Josephine County Sheriff's Department cannot answer.
    Of OSP patrol calls for service in the county last year, 72 percent were referred by the sheriff's department. In the case of OSP detectives, 86 percent of their calls were sheriff's referrals.
    Every one of those patrol calls that takes a trooper away from highway duty means one less cruiser enforcing speed limits and maintaining traffic safety on Interstate 5 and state highways in the area — including Jackson County.
    OSP detectives investigated 797 cases in Josephine County last year but only 148 cases in Jackson County, which has two and a half times the population.
    The OSP is not to blame for this situation. Its officers are sworn to protect the public wherever they are needed. But the OSP's funding comes from the state budget, which is supported by all Oregonians. As it stands now, Josephine County residents are receiving law enforcement services out of proportion to the taxes they pay, and Jackson County residents are being shortchanged.
    In response to the situation in Josephine County and other timber counties, especially Curry County on the south coast, the Legislature last year gave Gov. John Kitzhaber the power to declare a public safety fiscal emergency when a county is unable to provide a "minimally adequate level" of public safety services. If county commissioners agreed, the governor could impose a state income tax surcharge on county residents, with the state matching that contribution, to beef up police protection.
    Under the new law, a county would have to completely fail to provide services it is required to provide under the state constitution, such as a sheriff and access to a jail, before the state could step in. Josephine County is still providing those — just barely.
    State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point — who wants to be governor — says it's the state's responsibility to ensure the public safety of all Oregonians, and when one county has greater needs, "the state needs to respond accordingly."
    It's certainly important to maintain public safety. But when a county with greater needs is using more than its share of state police protection, it's reasonable for the residents of a neighboring county to ask, "for how long?"
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