By Steven Sandberg
GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A warning from the sheriff: law enforcement in Josephine County is about to change.
Cuts are already being made to the sheriff’s office after a public safety levy fails in Tuesday’s election. Dozens of deputies and other employees have lost their jobs, and the sheriff says it’s only the beginning.
The proposed levy would have increased property taxes to 1.99 per thousand dollars of assessed value to help pay for public safety. Voters turned it down and now the sheriff says the levy’s failure means his office will have to respond to crimes with whatever little they have left.
It’s a day Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson would like to forget. The Josephine county sheriff was forced to spend his Wednesday telling 70 of his deputies and employees they no longer had a job.
“It’s pretty devastating,” says Sheriff Gilbertson. “The phone calls have been happening all night long, and families in tears, of course, losing their support.”
He said he tried to warn voters about what would happen if a public safety levy was voted down.
“Whether they don’t believe us, whether they thought we were blowing smoke to squeeze more money out of them, that wasn’t the case at all,” Sheriff Gilbertson states.
57% of Josephine County voters voted down the public safety tax on Tuesday. As a result, only 28 people will be left at the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Gilbertson will be the only person on patrol, a little more than a dozen employees will be at the jail and three contract deputies scattered are across the county; Gilbertson says everything else will be gone.
“Records? No one. Evidence? No one. Detectives? No one.”
The district attorney’s office will also lay off prosecutors. Juvenile justice is closing its detention center, and letting go of 20 employees and some citizens are already arming themselves. One man wanted his identity hidden, because he’s getting a gun to be ready for law enforcement cutbacks.
“I need to be prepared to defend myself, and defend my family and my property,” he says.
Without funding, those cutbacks could end up cutting the entire sheriff’s office.
“This year, we’re going to be severely crippled,” Sheriff Gilbertson says. “Next year, we’re going to close our doors.”
Josephine county homeowners currently have one of the lowest tax rates in Oregon, they only pay 58 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. The sheriff’s office says it is working on a system to report property crimes or car accidents on its website, but Sheriff’s Gilbertson says the small staff means there’s small chance of a follow up investigation.