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OSP office in Grants Pass could close

The Oregon State Police would have to make the “heartbreaking” decision to lay off almost 200 personnel and close nine field offices under a proposal submitted to Gov. Kate Brown.

Brown has asked all state departments for how they would cut their budgets by 14 percent over the next year, the maximum the governor can order on her own.

The numbers are expected to be a starting point for filling an expected $3 billion hole in revenue due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next Oregon budget forecast is set to be released May 20 by the state Office of Economic Analysis.

OSP would implement an estimated $27 million reduction in its budget by cutting 199 positions and closing nine field offices in Grants Pass, Prineville, La Pine, McMinnville, St. Helens, Albany, Hermiston, Government Camp, and Tillamook.

“This is a planning exercise — a hypothetical, and this is not a layoff notice,” said Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton in a “straight-talk” statement to OSP staff released Tuesday afternoon.

There was bipartisan support for keeping the budget knife away from OSP.

“We are going to have to find a way to fund essential services, and that definitely includes OSP,” said Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, one of the chairs of the Joint Ways & Means Committee in the Legislature.

Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, said lawmakers in both parties believe there needs to be a larger state police force.

“This would be a steep cut — too steep,” Zika said. “They just hired a bunch of troopers — it costs about $100,000 to train each one,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to turn around and lay them off. That’s a cut to public safety.”

Hampton told OSP personnel that Brown and the Legislature could also tap into the state’s “rainy day” funds to patch the budget gaps for OSP or other departments. But to meet the governor’s forecasting request, OSP would reduce or suspend 199 positions, including 102 positions in field operations and services bureaus and 39 positions in forensic laboratories and pathology operations, including suspending operations in Springfield and Central Point. Hampton said the overall effect on forensic services would be “severe.”

Another 39 would come out of headquarters support, internet technology, central records, human resources and the office of professional standards, and dispatch.

Hampton said 18 positions assigned to training, procurement, fleet, and the Oregon State Athletic Commission would also fall to the budget axe.

OSP woud remove all positions from its Dignitary Protection Unit and firearm investigative unit.

The Oregon Fire Marshal Bureau would have its budget cut, but not lose any positions. It is funded by sources other than the state general fund. Positions funded by Oregon Lottery and tribal gaming revenue could face cuts under other budget proposals.

Hampton said “scenarios are endless, complex and almost unimaginable to fathom” amid the crisis. But he chose to shutter offices and specific operations rather than taking a “thin-soup” approach and spread reductions across the entire force.

“I would look to build this agency around our core mission — the protection of people, property and natural resources,” he said.

Hampton said the offices chosen for closure were near enough to stations that would remain open, making the reassignments less onerous for those forced to move.

Hampton told OSP personnel that the final outcome is unknown.

“Team, there is no crystal ball for this job, but times like these deserve straight talk,” he said. “If our agency will be spared to a degree, or face more drastic reductions, we likely won’t know for many weeks.”

OSP and other departments must now wait for the hard numbers to come down from analysts.

“Now we do the hardest part, we wait for something beyond our control — the May 20th revenue forecast that will give us an idea what type of scenarios we are truly looking at,” he said.

“Hang in there and look out for each other.”

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