Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, March 7 @ 4:23 p.m.

Curry County Commissioners Use Recent 'Banana Belt Cleanup' To Emphasize Need For 24/7 Sheriff's Office; Law Enforcement Tax Levy Ballot Measure Language is Available

More than 60 volunteers braved the snow to clean up roughly 102,000 pounds of trash and debris from the wooded area east of Brookings on Saturday. | Photo courtesy of April Hempenstall


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


Brad Alcorn pointed to a Saturday community cleanup that drew 62 volunteers who removed roughly 102,000 pounds of trash, abandoned RVs and other debris from the wooded areas east of Brookings as one reason Curry County voters should approve a property tax for law enforcement.

Noting that the proposed levy set to appear on Oregon’s May 21 primary ballot would pay for a 24-hour sheriff’s patrol, the Curry County commissioner said the Banana Belt Cleanup reflected the “increasing burden on public safety.”

“That is a reflection of how this community is changing in a negative way,” Alcorn said. “Because criminals know when we don’t have deputies on duty. Criminals know when our law enforcement is most vulnerable and that’s when they’re very active. This is an opportunity for the community to say, ‘That’s enough,’ and, ‘We’re going to change it.’”

Alcorn and his colleague Jay Trost on Wednesday promised to provide as much information as possible to the public about the proposed levy. This will include creating a website with an FAQ section as well as QR codes for people to determine what the levy would mean financially for them.

Alcorn also committed to schedule town hall meetings that would allow residents to speak with Curry County Sheriff John Ward as well as representatives from the District Attorney’s Office.

This promise came about a week after Curry County Clerk Shelley Denney released the official ballot language of the proposed levy to the public. If approved, property owners would see a $2.23 tax per $1,000 of assessed property value starting in July and continuing through 2029. According to the county’s statement, the measure could cause property taxes to increase by more than 3 percent and is estimated to raise about $8.3 million for law enforcement.

In addition to being able to hire new patrol deputies, the tax levy would also fund jail improvements and “prevent any reduction in the current levels of public safety.” If the levy is approved, the ballot measure would also create a seven-member oversight board comprised of citizens to ensure those dollars are spent on public safety.

The Board of Commissioners’ promise to provide more information and engage with the public regarding the proposed tax coincided with an impromptu presentation Brookings resident April Hempenstall gave regarding the Banana Belt Cleanup.

Hempenstall organized Saturday’s cleanup on behalf of the Rev-Limiter Racing and Gambler 500 clubs. Both groups spearhead cleanups of the public lands east of Brookings and on Saturday, Hempenstall said she coordinated with the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Solve to focus their efforts on areas near Mt. Emily and Snaketooth Butte.

Curry Transfer and Recycling donated two 30-yard dumpsters and people filled up the backs of their trailers to haul garbage out, Hempenstall said. They also used excavators to crush some of the abandoned RVs they found, making it easier to haul them out of the area.

They also hauled out a white pickup and a red van someone had abandoned, Hempenstall said.

“It snowed on us and nobody complained,” she said. “It was a really good day.”

The Gambler 500 group holds races, though they’re not timed, Hempenstall told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday.

“When it first started out it was you buy a piece of crap vehicle for $500 and it’s a gamble on whether you make it from start to finish and how much trash you can pick up in between,” she said, adding that they use the Sons of Smokey app to help mark and track the various cleanup sites the group visits. “We used it last year [when] we did our very first run in Cave Junction. We called it Cave Junction Malfunction. We did a whole weekend there and I think we filled four 30-yard dumpsters.”

Saturday’s cleanup came about at the request of Elizabeth Hooper, of the U.S. Forest Service, Hempenstall said. She added that she had about three weeks to put the cleanup on, which included working with the U.S. Forest Service, the sheriff’s office and other officials and landowners in the area to make sure the group had permission to do the cleanup.

“I’m thinking about making it an annual thing,” she said, adding that Trost invited her to Wednesday’s Board meeting. “It would be a lot of fun.”

On Wednesday, Ward thanked Hempenstall and the other volunteers who worked the Banana Belt Cleanup on Saturday. He said he got a phone call Wednesday morning about a “big pile of stuff” near U.S. 101 and South Bank Road, including possible drug paraphernalia and used needles and said Hempenstall and her team are putting their health at risk tackling those jobs.

The sheriff also officially stated his support for the tax measure, saying that it’ll help his entire office. Curry County has been a training ground for law enforcement for years, Ward said. More funding will help him hire and keep more deputies.

“What usually happens is when we hire a lateral [recruit] they come here, they go to work and then they move on,” Ward said. “If we send them to the academy and get them certified, they move on because of the pay. We will have better things for people to attract them and retain them and we should be able to do the best we can with more resources.”

County Treasurer Dave Barnes also said he supported the levy vote. Barnes, who has been the treasurer for about three years, said he explored a potential sales tax vote as well as other ways to increase the county’s revenue. He assured the public that the county doesn’t waste money.

“We get the most bang for our buck that we can,” he said. “Our elected officials past and present, department heads past and present should get a lot of credit for going out for grant money to help support their efforts in their offices over the years. Without that we would be in worse economic shape than we are.”

At least one member of the public, Port Orford area resident Jeannette Peterson, shared her reservations about the tax levy. Curry County has one of the lowest tax rates in Oregon, Peterson said, stating that she supported an increase. She cited “the newspaper,” which stated that property taxes could increase by more than 3 percent, but said in her case they’ll go up by 27 percent.

“We live on a somewhat sizable piece of acreage [and] our assessed value is pretty high,” she said. “We totally support a 24/7 patrol. Sheriff John Ward and his group are all we’ve got. We have no city police where we are and so we’re very supportive of it. I think what I’d like to see is maybe a little bit more information.”

Peterson also pointed out many Curry County residents are retired and live on fixed incomes. They’ll need to plan for the increase, she pointed out. She said it would also be helpful for residents to learn about the county’s plans for continuing a revenue stream in five years when the tax sunsets.

Trost answered that last question by mentioning a group he’s part of, the Association of O&C Counties. The AOCC represents Western Oregon counties that host 2.1 million acres of once-private timberland that was part of a grant in exchange for the building of a railroad in the late 1800s. Those lands were turned over to federal ownership in 1916.

Trost referred to a split Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling in April 2023 on whether a Biden Administration proclamation prohibiting commercial timber harvest on O&C lands was lawful. According to Trost, AOCC will take that decision before the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he and other members hope to get a ruling within the 5-year life of Curry County’s law enforcement tax levy.

“That could be the bridge that gets us to long-term funding,” Trost told Peterson. “If that doesn’t occur, then I think what we would be looking at is the potential for a renewed five-year levy or the potential that maybe it’s like Josephine County where we just want to have a permanent rate for law enforcement. But this [levy] will give us a window to see how that court cases progressing while still maintaining much needed public safety in our county.”


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