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Timber Counties Have Mixed Results On Public Safety Levies

Three Oregon timber counties that asked voters to raise taxes to restore deep cuts to law enforcement were seeing three different results.

With a majority of ballots counted late Tuesday in Lane County, voters were passing a five-year public safety levy 56 percent to 43 percent. Expected to bring in $14.5 million in the first year, that levy would be dedicating to increasing capacity at the jail.

Inmates there have been routinely released only to be sent back charged with new crimes.

In Curry County, voters were rejecting a five-year levy that would start at $4 million a year. Returns posted late Tuesday showed 56 percent “no” votes to 44 percent “yes.”

The margin was razor thin in Josephine County, where a three-year levy proposal was trailing — 49 percent ‘yes’ to 51 percent ‘no’— in returns late Tuesday. It would start at $9.1 million a year.

The votes will determine whether the counties will continue to live with the consequences of the cuts: few deputies to send on 911 calls, jails releasing inmates only to see them return charged with new crimes and no one to prosecute some crimes.

The voters pay some of the lowest property tax rates in the state and have consistently refused to raise taxes.

The cuts were forced by the expiration of a federal subsidy that paid timber counties millions of dollars to make up for revenues they lost when logging was cut on national forests to protect fish and wildlife.

The levies are widely viewed as a temporary solution to the funding gap left by the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act, which provided $105 million to Oregon in 2012.

Many in timber country still hope for a long-term solution that depends on increased logging on federal forests, especially the patchwork of federal timber in Western Oregon known as the O&C lands.

However, legislative efforts to boost logging and to restore the subsidies have failed to gain traction in Congress.

Curry County, the smallest of the three, is on the brink of bankruptcy, and Sheriff John Bishop has said his office would effectively have to close if the levy fails.

The Legislature is considering a variety of bills to allow the state to step in and take over, even levying taxes, if counties go broke.

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