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Josephine County law enforcement levy failing

Josephine County voters were once again defeating a law enforcement levy Tuesday, with a jail and juvenile justice levy losing by about 1,000 votes.

Measure 17-59 was failing by a count of 12,575 to 11,623, or about 52 percent to 48 percent.

Josephine County voters have defeated two public safety levies since 2012, when budget cuts virtually eliminated rural sheriff's patrols, reduced the number of inmates held at the jail and closed the juvenile detention/shelter.

The proposed five-year levy would levy a property tax of $1.19 per $1,000 of assessed value. It would cost $119 a year for a property with an assessed value of $100,000.

Josephine County has the lowest property tax in the state at 58 cents per $1,000.

If the levy fails, the number of inmates at the jail is expected to drop from 130 to 100, as of July 1, and possibly lower, according to Sheriff Gil Gilbertson.

Two years ago, the jail held 150 inmates. Built in 2000 after voters approved a construction bond of nearly $13 million, the jail has a capacity of more than 260 beds but has never had a dedicated funding source and has never operated at full capacity.

If the levy proposal fails, a 30-bed juvenile shelter and detention center is expected to remain closed. Three juvenile offenders currently can be held in a Medford juvenile lockup, thanks to a contract with Jackson County.

The levy efforts were made necessary by the expiration of a federal subsidy that paid timber counties millions of dollars to make up for revenues they lost when logging was cut on national forests to protect fish and wildlife.

The levies were widely viewed as a temporary solution to the funding gap left by the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act, which provided $105 million to Oregon in 2012.

Many in timber-dependent counties still hope for a long-term solution that depends on increased logging on federal forests, especially the patchwork of federal timber in Western Oregon known as the O&C lands.

However, legislative efforts to boost logging and to restore the subsidies have failed to gain traction in Congress.