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Sheriff candidates agree taxes are needed to increase patrols

Both candidates for Jackson County sheriff agreed in a televised forum Tuesday night that raising taxes was the only way to provide permanent police patrols in the county's rural areas.

Yet Mike Winters and Ed Mayer traded jabs on other fronts, such as how to bring change to the sheriff's department and their disagreement over endorsements in the local law enforcement community.

The Rogue Valley League of Women Voters sponsored the 30-minute call-in show ' broadcast on RVTV. Ruth Walsh, the league's voters service chairwoman, moderated the program.

The debate opened as Walsh asked the candidates how they planned to raise a tax levy to fund the sheriff's department's patrol division.

Randomly selected to answer the first question, Winters reminded viewers that he opposed an &

36;8.7 million tax levy to fund rural patrols that was proposed for the November ballot. The sheriff's department didn't lay out a business plan and failed to address how putting 15 more deputies on the road would affect the county jail and the district attorney's office, he said.

We're going to have to raise taxes at some point, but I want the chance to get in there (and) see where I can cut waste, Winters said.

Funding the sheriff's department also should be spread to taxpayers in the entire county, not just rural residents, Winters said.

Expanding on Winters' statements about distributing the tax burden over the county's entire population, Mayer said he believed all county residents should be charged for the services that affect everyone, such as the jail, civil division and search and rescue.

Mayer outlined the plan earlier this year while serving as an adviser to the committee charged with writing a ballot measure to fund patrols. However, the committee approved a different approach, which left rural residents footing the bill. The measure was scrapped in August.

Suiting up volunteer deputies could help alleviate the sheriff's department's manpower shortage, Winters said.

Service is my number one commitment.

A reserve program would place more deputies on the road and allow the sheriff's department to respond to calls promptly, he replied to a caller who asked both candidates to address what kind of changes could be made to the department.

Mayer admitted that some have questioned whether he would make changes within the sheriff's department, led by Sheriff Bob Kennedy since he ran unopposed for the office in 1994. Mayer has served as the department's captain since 1997.

I've been there for 27 years, Mayer said. I know what works and what needs to be changed.

The citizens have made an incredible investment in me ... Now, I'm ready to plow that investment back into the community.

If elected, Mayer would immediately employ a victim's advocate in the sheriff's department and would work with budget committees to consistently fund patrols. Addressing the county's growing drug abuse problem and preventing senior citizens from being targets for crime also top his priority list, he said.

While they agreed on some counts, Winters and Mayer clashed over the question of who supports each candidates' campaign when a final caller asked Mayer how he would gain the support of his employees if elected.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Employees Association pitched its support for Winters more than two years ago. Several members of the union approached Winters and asked him to run for sheriff, Winters said. In March last year, the association presented county commissioners with a vote of no confidence in Kennedy.

Mayer suggested that recruiting Winters to run for office was self-serving on the part of the union and asked citizens to take a serious look at the union's motivation.

While both candidates have the required credentials to serve as sheriff, Winters said, Jackson County deputies were encouraging voters to support him.

Mayer countered that only about half of the department's deputies participated in a vote to endorse Winters. Of 133 ballots mailed to members of the association, 85 were returned. Seventy-four voted for Winters, eight for Mayer and three were undecided, according to a letter Winters received from Bob Stark, the association president.

Regardless of who was elected, the department needs team-building, Mayer said.

There is no doubt in my mind that I will be able to mend any fences that have been broken, he said.

To learn more about the candidates for Jackson County sheriff, visit their Web sites at and .

League of Women Voters candidate forums will be re-broadcast this week on Channel 30. For complete schedules, consult RVTV's Web site at

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail .