Curry County voters are considering a property tax increase that could test a new public safety emergency funding law.
If voters on Tuesday approve tripling their county property tax rate — the lowest in the state at 59 cents per $1,000 valuation — it will raise $3.3 million a year for sheriff’s patrols, the jail and other law enforcement.
If they turn it down, county officials say they will be in touch with the governor to talk about declaring a public safety emergency. Current funding only runs through the middle of next year. An emergency declaration would allow county commissioners to impose a surcharge on some existing tax to fill half the budget gap, and the state to pick up the rest.
The Legislature enacted the law this year in anticipation that rural counties like Curry would face funding crises related to declines in federal subsidies to timber counties, and voters’ refusal to increase their taxes.
The levy only runs three years. By that time, county officials hope that legislation will have been enacted by Congress to boost logging on federal lands in Western Oregon known as the O&C lands. Counties with O&C lands within their borders get a 50-percent share of revenues from timber sold. Revenues have been declining since the 1990s due to logging cutbacks on federal forests to protect fish and wildlife habitat and clean water.