Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Feb. 8 @ 2:15 p.m. / Elections, Oregon

Curry County Voters Will See Proposed Tax Levy For 24/7 Sheriff's Deputies on May Ballot

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Survey Asking Curry County Voters Their Opinion on Proposed Tax Measure to Launch Soon


Curry County voters will be asked to approve a tax levy in May to fund a 24/7 sheriff’s office, Commissioner Brad Alcorn announced Wednesday.

Delivering a state-of-the-county address at the Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Alcorn said the proposed levy will appear on Oregon’s May 21 primary election ballot. It comes after the county transferred $4 million from its dwindling roads reserve fund to “provide limited services” at the sheriff’s office, he said.

A fully staffed sheriff’s office is necessary “in the wake of Measure 110 and with upward trends of violent crime,” Alcorn told the public and his colleagues.

“No one wants to use the road funds to fill the gap and we need to take that into consideration when planning for the future,” he said. “If we stopped using road funds to compensate sheriff’s patrol, we will need to cut county services across the board by 49 percent. If we continue to use road funds to offset the deficit in sheriff’s patrol, as has been done in the past, we will be looking at approximately 31 percent of the county’s budget being cut.”

Those cuts will be spread out countywide and “will severely impact our ability to provide even basic services,” Alcorn said.

The proposed tax levy will allow the Curry County Sheriff’s Office to staff deputies 24-hours per day and to maintain the county jail, Alcorn said. It would also ensure the District Attorney’s Office has the resources it needs to prosecute criminals, he said.

“This levy will have oversight in the form of a group of citizens chosen by leadership to follow through with purpose and intention,” Alcorn said. “This levy will be re-evaluated in five years. The levy will fund the level of service we as citizens of Curry County rely on in the present day and in consideration of the ever-changing threats to public safety.”

There are currently four vacant patrol deputy positions within the Curry County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff John Ward told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. To safely provide 24/7 coverage, the sheriff’s office would need to fill those vacant positions and would need to hire six more deputies, he said.

Because it’s hard to find people who are qualified to be patrol deputies, the sheriff’s office has been looking for recruits from other agencies willing to make a lateral career move, Ward said. But without a sign-on bonus and with a terrible housing market, there’s not much to entice people to live and work in Curry County, the sheriff said.

“With four openings, and I believe we have two people in the academy, we only have four or five deputies working right now,” Ward said. “And we supplement with our sergeants and our detectives as well to help handle calls. I’m no stranger to going out and covering calls as well. I’ll cover accidents and any time there’s a call that’s a priority call and I don’t have a deputy in the area, I’ll respond to them.”

Though he said he doesn’t control where the money comes from, Ward said there’s a law in Oregon that says there are seven distressed counties that can use the reserves they have set aside to fund road repairs for the direct and indirect costs of sheriff’s patrol.

Curry County is one of those distressed counties, he said.
Indirect cost of patrol includes the patrol dispatch as well as housing people at the jail, Ward said. The sheriff’s total budget is about $9 million, he said.

During his state of the county address, Alcorn said there are two financial cliffs looming — a general fund deficit and the “rapidly depleting road funds.” Alcorn said he and his colleagues directed priorities and reorganized the county’s equipment purchasing policies to save about $5 million.

According to Alcorn, this change includes a “fundamental shift” in the way Curry County purchases fleet vehicles.

“Instead of new vehicles being bought every couple of years, there’s a new emphasis on the maintenance and longevity of existing vehicles,” he said. “We looked at how departments are run and have been able to purge duplication and redundancies that we saw in day-to-day procedures. At this time last year our county had 139 employees and today we have 124.”

According to Alcorn, part of getting the county’s financial house in order included eliminating administrative positions at the advice of an outside efficiency expert. This resulted in a savings of about $800,000 in salaries and benefits, he said.

The proposed levy comes after Curry County entered into a $19,700 contract with Nelson Research in August to gauge voter opinion on the topic. The survey asked if voters would support a three-year tax levy, a split-rate levy or if they would support creating a law enforcement district.

On Thursday, Ward said his office has always strived to provide the best coverage it can, but he’s also concerned about his deputies’ safety as well.They’re often tasked with traveling up to an hour to respond to a call with no backup, he said, which is an accident waiting to happen and a huge liability on the county.

“I got a forest deputy right now trying to recover a stolen vehicle and he’s out there by himself and a patrol sergeant doing welfare checks on people that are suicidal,” Ward said. “It’s a constant thing, running from call to call. You get one done and you go to the next one.”


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