GRANTS PASS, Ore. — With an election looming early next month, Josephine County officials are hoping to hold onto the modest law enforcement gains they've made since 2017 by renewing a levy to fund the adult jail and juvenile detention center for another five years.
Sheriff Dave Daniel met with the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday to discuss the levy and underline what he sees as the vital importance of keeping it in place.
"We're happy with what the citizens have provided us, we're satisfied with what they've provided us. We're able to pull a little bit out of the General Fund to support that effort and keep this system whole," Daniel said.
The Josephine County Sheriff's Office all but collapsed in 2012, when funding for the agency bottomed out — forcing the agency to cut more than two-thirds of its staff, reduce available beds at the jail, shut down its detective division, and essentially halt deputy patrols in the county. Responses, when they happened, were almost exclusively for violent crimes.
When the jail levy passed in 2017, it was the first real bright spot for the Sheriff's Office in five years. With the jail and juvenile detention facility financially supported, the agency began a gradual recovery and re-expansion of services: the hiring of more patrol deputies, the relaunch of the resident deputy program, the addition of new equipment like dashcams, and expanded patrol hours. Just this week, the agency announced that it has revived its detective and K-9 divisions.
Since the levy, Sheriff Daniel said Tuesday, the agency has abandoned the most egregious "catch and release" tactics that were common during the worst of the crisis.
"It absolutely does not happen anymore, and I can tell you personally I've done that — that's the reason I ran for Sheriff, you're either part of the solution or part of the problem, and I was not going to sit back complacent and allow that to take place in Josephine County anymore," Daniel said. "We classify the individuals when they come in. We have more homicide suspects than we've ever had in our Josephine County Jail. They're staying. We have the pre-trials for the sex offenses — they're staying."
Sheriff Daniel acknowledged that those accused of more minor offenses are often released quickly from the jail, but he says the rate at which alleged offenders are admitted to the jail or released is not uncommon throughout the state, if not the nation. He went on to say that, to his knowledge, the Josephine County Jail is the only facility in the state currently intaking everyone arrested for a chargeable offense, even if they are released in a matter of hours.
"You're not seeing that anywhere else, nor the capacity we're at or the percentage of capacity that we're at, anywhere else in the state of Oregon," Daniel said.
For Josephine County property owners, renewing the levy would mean no change on their taxes — it would simply maintain the rate of $0.93 per $1,000 of assessed value that the original levy added when it passed in 2017. Still, in a county notorious for wanting to keep taxes low, it may not be such an easy sell to maintain the status quo.
"When we have that low tax rate — and we work very hard to keep that low $0.58," said Commissioner Dan DeYoung, referring to the County's base tax rate, "because that's what the voter wanted on the property tax side — guess what? We're going to strive to do that."
"We're really doing a lot with a little," agreed Commissioner Darin Fowler. "And I think the taxpayer appreciates that. But we've got to articulate it as well and say it out loud — we're not a fully-funded County, we are tied for last as far as tax rate and base rate. But we've almost gotten comfortable with that, living on this shoestring budget and doing the best we can, and stretching our folks ... stretching and stressing those folks, paying overtime sometimes, just to make things happen in our county."
All three commissioners expressed their support for renewing the levy.
The levy renewal measure will appear on ballots for the upcoming November 2 election. It pledges to maintain the current inmate capacity at the adult jail and at the juvenile detention center, as well as cover related administrative expenses.