Wrangling over funding for the sheriff’s department has been actively going on for more than 10 years. Public Safety in Josephine County comes mostly from the General Fund, although Juvenile Justice, the DA and Jail do get some grant funds from the state. Around 1993 timber harvests began to decline so the federal government stepped in to subsidize those losses with declining payments. Those payments peaked around 2006 when Josephine County got between $12 and $15 million in O&C funds. In 2011 O&C payments started winding down because this funding was supposed to be a stopgap for counties that depended on timber receipts until they could find their own sources of funding. The payments were designed to dwindle and got down to about $4.5 million but Commissioners did little until around 2011 when budget cuts forced massive layoffs from the Sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s budget was around $9.5 million in 2011 and that was cut by about half when adequate O&C funds failed to show up. Since then Sen. Wyden has squeezed additional O&C and another source of funding, Secure Schools money, out of the federal government to keep Josephine County afloat until they could pass a levy to self-fund their sheriff’s department. Eventually the jail was reduced, with the City of Grants Pass helping to fund that and the juvenile justice center was closed with inmates sent to Jackson County.
A Sheriff’s levy was proposed in 2012 but Commissioners then, who ran on NO New Taxes, were accused of not using other means to make up for dwindling O&C money. A $1.99 per thousand levy failed in 2012 by 14 points, a $1.48 levy failed in 2013 by 2 points and a $1.19 levy failed in 2013 by four points.
A poll in 2013 indicated two reasons for the failed levies. One – voters in Josephine County distrust the government and Two – proponents of the levies failed to spend enough money on the campaign to pass the measures. The poll did indicate voters would support a reworked levy at $1.40 per thousand if it paid for increased patrols and funded the jail and juvenile hall.
There were two groups trying to get a levy passed. One was called Secure Our Safety and another Community United for Safety which paid $25,000 for the poll that surveyed 402 voters.
During a review of the failed election members of the groups offered the following suggestions when trying another levy: Let people know how the money will be spent, promise a formal oversite committee to monitor spending of the levy, the campaign to promote the levy needs a lot of money to get the message out. Criticism of the levy proponents is that they didn’t take into account that Josephine County has a high number of low-income people on fixed incomes, and they didn’t emphasize that the money would be used mostly for law enforcement and just a little for administrative purposes. They also didn’t demonstrate well enough that there were no more ways to make cuts in other departments that could be transferred to the Sheriff’s Department.
In addition, a lot of people didn’t like the Sheriff at the time, Gil Gilbertson.
Two more levies were tried after 2013. The last one, for $1.42 per thousand, lost by a 20 point margin. Oregon State Police started providing extra help in Josephine County with patrols and responding to calls.
In 2016 a proposal to form an independent district to fund law enforcement wasn’t approved by the Commission so it didn’t get on the ballot. People were starting to say Josephine County and Grants Pass should merge into one public safety organization. Grants Pass voters did pass a levy to support law and fire safety.
In 2017 a Public Safety levy to reopen the Juvenile Justice Center and support the jail passed
In 2019 Commissioner Dan DeYoung proposed a regional sales tax to support the sheriff’s department but that concept fell flat.
When Dave Daniels was elected Sheriff the jail levy freed up money from his budget so he was able to increase patrols from 12 hours to 20 hours a day. The county also got a state grant to provide money for a special unit to bust illegal marijuana grows.
In 2021 Commissioner Herman Baertschiger suggested a tax district to fund law enforcement. He said he thought having a district board to oversee the spending of levy dollars would appeal to voters. However, that idea was dropped after he and DeYoung went around talking to various groups and they came up with another sales tax idea, which failed in 2022. The Josephine County Republican Party, which said they didn’t want a property tax, helped craft the sales tax, then turned against it shortly before the election. Josephine County Democrats went through the proposed sales tax ordinance, consulted a sales tax specialist, then decided they could not support the sales tax as written although they were supportive of the sheriff.