Grant County public safety tax proposal dies

By Antonio Sierra (OPB)
Aug. 2, 2023 11:59 p.m.

Tax measure would have dedicated more money to sheriff’s office now that it’s the only local law enforcement agency in the county

FILE: A ballot drop box outside the Grant County Sheriff's Department in Canyon City, Ore., Aug. 29, 2019.

FILE: A ballot drop box outside the Grant County Sheriff's Department in Canyon City, Ore., Aug. 29, 2019.

Emily Cureton Cook / OPB

With the support of the sheriff, the Grant County Court nixed a proposal Wednesday to send a public safety tax measure to the ballot.


The court — Grant County’s equivalent of a board of commissioners — made the move after spending its last meeting debating the tax, which would have raised $400,000 annually for the sheriff’s office.

Despite the challenges running patrols following the John Day Police Department closing in 2022, Sheriff Todd McKinley told commissioners he didn’t view Wednesday’s decision as a vote against law enforcement.

“As a citizen, I’m actually excited about the no vote when my tax bill comes,” he said. “As the sheriff, I’m actually pleased with it, because I think it was we’re getting into a place that I think the county can do some things down the line. We can look at things a little more creative.”


City governments were also not on board with the tax. At a Tuesday meeting with McKinley and Commissioner Jim Hamsher, city leaders from across the county told them most towns couldn’t afford contracts for sheriff patrols, and they didn’t think their constituents would support a tax that would mostly benefit John Day, the county’s largest city.

“If this measure passed, you’re talking a couple of major ranches paying big money in tax increases (to) pay for police services in the city of John Day,” McKinley said. “That would be pretty hard to swallow.”

John Day tried saving its police department in 2021 by putting a tax measure of its own to voters. The measure received a majority of the special election’s votes, but it couldn’t hit the required voter turnout threshold to pass. The city closed the police department the following year, making the sheriff’s office the only local law enforcement agency in the geographically vast county.

Hamsher said he wants the county to explore alternatives, like charging cities for public safety based on call volume, rather than risk getting rejected at the ballot box.

“I am very supportive of law enforcement,” he said. “But I’d like to find a way to give solutions that actually bring funds into the county, not hurry up to get a no vote that’s not bringing nothing.”

In the end, both Hamsher and Commissioner John Rowell, who voiced support for the measure last month, voted against putting the measure on the ballot.

Rowell also withdrew a previous motion to shut down the Grant County Justice Court, a court that handles misdemeanors and other low level cases. Rowell had proposed it as a cost saving measure, but drew opposition from the justice of the peace, the local district attorney and Judge Scott Myers, the head of the county court.

“I think it’s swift justice and I think it serves our people well,” Myers said. “And if it costs us money to serve our people, well, so be it.”