Once more, Josephine County may ask its stubborn voters to tax themselves to provide some measure of public safety in a county that has little of it left. Residents should think long and hard about their future before they say no again.
The latest request comes from Sheriff Dave Daniel, who is asking county commissioners to put a levy request on the May ballot to fund county jail operations. The commissioners agreed to have a draft order drawn up for today's meeting.
Daniel is asking for only 84 cents per $1,000 assessed value, enough to increase the capacity of the jail from 130 to 185 beds (if fully funded, the jail can hold 262 prisoners). That would allow the city of Grants Pass to stop paying $1 million a year to rent 28 jail beds so its still-functional police force has somewhere to lock up people who get arrested.
Grants Pass residents, it's worth noting, have voted in favor of past public safety levies, only to be overruled by the countywide electorate.
The sheriff's request would do nothing to restore patrols to something more than the current 10 hours a day. Nor would it reopen the juvenile detention facility, which Commissioner Simon Hare wants to see. That would cost an additional 9 cents, bringing the total levy request to 93 cents per $1,000.
A levy on last November's ballot would have beefed up jail capacity, restored 24-hour patrols and reopened the juvenile justice center, but it failed by a 3-2 margin.
The loss of federal safety net funding in lieu of timber sale receipts is part of the reason Josephine County is struggling, along with its lowest-in-the-state property tax rate. Those federal payments aren't coming back, and county residents need to face that fact and agree to pay for a bare minimum sheriff's department and county jail. As it stands now, Oregon State Police respond to emergency calls when deputies are unavailable, pulling resources from Interstate 5 and from Jackson County, which is forced to pick up the slack with law enforcement paid for by residents here.
Beyond the risk to life and limb from criminals who are unlikely to be arrested and can't be locked up even if they are, Josephine County residents are jeopardizing their own economic future as well.
If new industries came to Josephine County and created jobs, those employees would help spread the tax burden of keeping everyone safe. But what business owner is likely to come to a place that lacks a fully functioning police force and an adequate jail?
The worse the situation becomes, the more Josephine County's reputation will suffer and the less likely any beneficial economic development will occur.