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Rural Oregon Counties Clamor For Adequate Public Safety

Law enforcement officials and county stakeholders met Tuesday in Jackson County to define adequate levels of public safety — and decide how they can provide it.

Many of Oregon’s rural counties have long depended on timber sales to support funding for public safety services.

But decreased logging has led to steep cuts in public safety budgets.

Michael McArthur is executive director of the Association of Oregon Counties.

Josephine County Sheriff's officer -- Photo courtesy Josephine County

Josephine County Sheriff’s officer — Photo courtesy Josephine County

If you call 911 in rural Oregon, McArthur said, “it may be quite a while before someone comes, if they come at all. We have inadequate public safety in a number of regions of the state.”

McArthur says upcoming county and state budgets are possible sources of increased funding — but the real solution may be federal.

One bill meant to increase logging and timber payments has already passed the House. A related bill sponsored by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden remains in committee.

McArthur hopes the bills will be merged and reach the President’s desk in the next year.

Many conservation groups oppose the bills, citing environmental concerns, which could create a possible roadblock.

Nevertheless, facilitator Jim Johnson of the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, said that stakeholders were receptive to increasing lobbying efforts.

The counties represented at Tuesday’s meeting were Curry, Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Josephine. But Johnson said  33 of Oregon’s 36 counties receive timber payments and thus are effected to varying degrees in terms of reduced revenue to pay for public safety. And he added that residents and visitors alike could be impacted.

County representatives plan to continue meeting in the coming months to work out possible funding solutions for public safety.

On the Web

Report from Jan. Meeting