Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, March 28 @ 4:05 p.m. / Elections, Oregon

Curry County Sheriff Says His Office Faces A $3 Million-Plus Budget Cut If Proposed Tax Levy Fails

Curry County’s chief law enforcement officer says he may have to cut his department’s budget by 31 percent, or more than $3 million, if a proposed property tax increase fails to gain traction in May.

Appearing with Commissioner Brad Alcorn before the Brookings City Council on Monday, Sheriff John Ward said the above information had come from the county’s new finance director. Those cuts will occur even if the sheriff’s budget is supplemented through the county’s Road Reserve funds, he told Brookings resident.

If the Curry County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t receive an allocation from the roads reserve fund, “it would be like a 49 percent cut,” Ward told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday.

“Even at 31 or 32 percent, or whatever it was, that would wipe out my entire patrol division and [cut] into the jail,” he said. “She said it was just over $3 million we’d be looking at cutting.”

Voters will be asked to approve a five-year property tax levy of $2.23 per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed levy will appear on Oregon’s May 21 primary ballot and would fund 24-7 sheriff’s patrol. According to Alcorn, with the average assessed home value in Curry County coming in at $170,510, homeowners will be asked to pay $31.69 per month.

The proposed levy would sunset in 2029, by which point commissioners hope commercial timber harvest on O&C lands would be available again, Alcorn said.

Also known as the Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands, O&C lands are checkerboarded across 18 Western Oregon counties and contain 2.4 million acres of forest. The Bureau of Land Management manages most O&C lands.

Alcorn’s colleague, Jay Trost, is involved with the Association of O&C Counties, which is involved in litigation over a Biden Administration proclamation prohibiting commercial timber harvest on O&C lands. At the Board of Commissioners’ March 6 meeting, Trost said the AOCC aims to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If we can get our timber rights back, that’s a game-changer for this county,” Alcorn told the Brookings City Council on Monday. “Passing this 5-year levy now gives us the ability to work through all available funding options and ensures the county has access to adequate public safety."

Curry County’s Road Reserve fund sits at about just under $19,247,753, Alcorn said. He referred to it as one of the county’s “very serious” financial cliffs, noting that the Curry County had saved that money for decades and used it for leveraging grants and fixing roads.

Most recently, Road Reserve dollars have paid for patrol costs at the Curry County Sheriff’s Office, Alcorn said.

A more imminent financial cliff is the county’s inability to pay for mandated county services, Alcorn said.

According to the Frequently Asked Questions section of a website that aims to educate voters about the proposed levy, the county is using a $7 million general fund budget to operate all of its services, including the sheriff’s office. About $2.1 million is property tax revenue. The difference comes from one-time federal dollars that’s set to expire on June 30, according to the website.

When touching on why there isn’t enough money in the general fund to pay for mandated services, Alcorn gave the Council a lesson on how property taxes are distributed.

“When we receive your check for property taxes, only 7.31 percent goes into the general fund,” he said. “The rest goes to our special districts like our fire districts, our water districts, our library districts and our schools, etc. To simplify it, if you write a $3,000 check to the county for property taxes, only $213 goes into our general fund.”

At a fixed rate of 60 cents per every $1,000 of assessed property value, Curry County has the second-lowest property tax rate in the State of Oregon, Alcorn said. Coos County comes in at No. 3 at just over $1 per $1,000 assessed property value, and Josephine County is at No. 1 with a rate that’s one cent less than Curry County’s, he said.

Josephine County voters approved the creation of a law enforcement district in November 2023. Coos County voters are set to weigh in on a 98 cent per $1,000 assessed value tax levy in May with theirs going toward the jail.

According to Ward, the sheriff’s office has a budget of between $8 million and $9 million, which includes revenues and expenditures. Operating the jail alone costs $2.5 million annually, which includes the inmates’ medical and housing expenses.

There are currently 28 people in the jail, Ward said Thursday. He added that though the jail has 35 beds, “it doesn’t mean we can put 35 people in there.”

Ward also pointed out that while he doesn’t have enough deputies to have a 24-7 patrol, the jail and county dispatch center does operate 24-hours per day. He said he’s worried that if the levy doesn’t pass, his deputies will go elsewhere.

“And then if we ever get funding back, it’s going to cost the county a ton of money to figure out how to hire people — retain them, recruit them, train them,” he said. “We’ll start from scratch again.”

According to the ballot measure, Curry County’s law enforcement levy will raise an estimated $8.3 million for 24-hour patrols as well as jail upgrades. A seven-member citizens oversight board will ensure the money is only spent on law enforcement, Alcorn said.

In addition to the website, Alcorn said people can call (541) 247-3248 to determine how the levy would impact their property taxes. Town hall meetings have also been scheduled for Port Orford on April 15, Gold Beach on April 16 and Brookings-Harbor on April 27.


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