Week of January 3, 2022
Keeping the community safe costs money but as Commissioner Darin Fowler said during Thursday’s budget discussion, “I do want to remind everyone our community decided 10 or 12 years ago that they don’t want to be a fully funded county and we’re not. They never supported the sheriff’s patrol, they only did it when we did the jail and juvenile justice levy and although I think you’ve done a great job, Sheriff, of bringing patrol to the maximum point that you can, that’s still not what the people asked for.”
However, apparently some in Josephine County believe keeping safe means dodging the Oregon State Legislature’s gun safety rules put in place last session and arming themselves. The Commissioners’ work week began during Legal Counsel Jan. 4 with a “Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance” based on one passed last spring by Yamhill County Commissioners that says the sheriff and district attorney can’t enforce state gun laws passed after February of 2021. The meeting began with a new Chairman, Herman Baertschiger and Vice Chairman Darin Fowler.
“I think we need to take a stand on this. We don’t want to be caught without something like this. We do need to take a stand on the Second Amendment because, you know how nobody wants to read the Constitution anymore,” Commissioner Dan DeYoung said, after admitting he didn’t get a chance to actually read the Yamhill ordinance. “I think what we need to do is really, um, declare what we feel the Constitution says.”
Last summer the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill that mandates the safe storage of guns, bans them from the Capitol and the airport and allows school districts, community colleges and universities to set their own policy on guns allowed on the premises. In response, Yamhill Commissioners declared that state law violates their Second Amendment rights and passed the ordinance on a vote of 2 to 1. Last fall Oregon’s attorney general filed lawsuits against Yamhill, as well as Harney County, which passed a similar ordinance. Yamhill County Counsel Christian Boenisch warned Commissioners county laws can’t pre-empt state laws.
Josephine County Counsel Wally Hicks didn’t mention this during the meeting Tuesday. Fowler referred to the county’s controversial Right to Bear Arms section that says “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” then goes on to say no laws can be passed by the county that could be taken as an infringement to bearing arms. Fowler said the ordinance is needed to back that provision up, which is currently under review by the Charter Committee. Baertschiger says while the ordinance is probably more “pomp” than “circumstance” it is needed to remind people in Josephine County that “we have something in our charter.” Commissioners debated whether or not to include a line for Sheriff Dave Daniels to sign on to the ordinance. They instructed Hicks to find out and get back to them Wednesday with a final draft.
Also on Tuesday the board discussed new regulations for ambulance services during a COVID spike that allows ambulance companies to put three emergency vehicles on the road during an emergency with the staff normally required to run two. DeYoung asked if this addressed hospital backups as well. He was told by Public Health Director Michael Weber it only pertained to ambulance services and hospitals have their own plans. The county contracts with American Medical Response for ambulance services. Weber endorsed the plan and said he hoped it would eventually apply more generally to emergencies and not just COVID.
Just before the meeting officially started DeYoung and Baertschiger bantered about hospital overcrowding with DeYoung saying he heard Asante lost “hundreds” of employees.
“I heard 600,” he said.
Herman said he thought it was 850. November 2 it was reported in the Grants Pass Daily Courier that out of 6,000 employees Asante had about 163 vaccine mandate holdouts who quit. DeYoung also grumbled about the county doing too much testing and both Baertschiger and Fowler, on Zoom from their homes, had coughs and running noses but wouldn’t admit they sought tests to find out if they had COVID.
Wednesday, when the Weekly Business Session is held, is when Commissioners take action on items they have discussed with Hicks on Tuesday. Their first order of business was to hear a report on the sale of property confiscated by the sheriff because of taxes owed or illegal activity. Information about that is on the county’s website under Property Management. They usually vote on these matters at the end of the meeting.
After that short discussion about the properties, three people called in during the Comments from the Public period on the agenda. Guenter Ambron from Illinois Valley announced he is starting a vaccine recover group and went through a list of various ailments people have attributed to COVID vaccines. Judy Hinkle, once again, condemned mask-wearing, social distancing and vaccines, then invited people to her We The People meetings held at a café in Cave Junction, presumably a gathering of unvaxxed people without masks sitting close together.
John Maupin called in support of fire standards he said have been sitting on the Commissioners’ desks for several months. He said the standards were developed by the Fire District Committee at the request of the Commissioners but have been ignored.
During Commissioners’ response to the comments, DeYoung said the fire standards will be coming up on the agenda “in a short time” while Baertschiger said fire standards may get pushback because of the potential of increasing homeowners’ costs. Fowler just repeated complaints about the governor’s mask mandates and accused Oregon government of having “no idea what they’re doing.”
Commissioners approved the new ambulance regulations, the property sales report and other “housekeeping” for the week.
Fowler’s comments on Thursday about voters deciding against a fully funded county set the stage for a dismal discussion during Commissioners’ Administrative Discussion meeting January 6. The Sheriff’s budget is “falling off a cliff” according to Finance Director Sandy Novak. The sheriff needs $4.3 million to maintain its current level of service. Earlier, the Commission skimmed $1.7 million from it’s share of American Rescue Plan Act COVID rescue funds in “administrative” fees and designated that for the Sheriff’s Department. Another million dollars can be scraped up by going back in time; that is, cutting back to the Sheriff’s 2018 budget, Novak said. Staffing shortages across county departments can contribute a couple of hundred thousand, since only about 10 or 11 of the 30 or so unfilled positions are paid from the General Fund. Then there are the SRS funds sent to the county from the federal government to make up for lost timber receipts, Novak said, but it is hard to get a clear estimation of what those will be in the coming fiscal year.
Sheriff Dave Daniels laid out the problem. Basically, because his budget is precarious his staff is abandoning a sinking ship. There are a lot of jobs out there in law enforcement right now, he said, so he is down to a staffing crisis in the jail. He’s lost six employees in corrections with two more indicating they will leave soon, and under the terms of the recently renewed levy he is obligated to keep full staffing in the jail. He also said he lost a patrolman to the City of Grants Pass Police Department and because the county has instigated a hiring freeze until it figures out where money to fund his department will come from, he can’t fill out his illegal cannabis fighting team. He says it takes a year of vetting, testing and training a new officer so he’s afraid he won’t be ready for the next growing season. He said if the budget ultimately cuts his patrol force, officers on duty now would be reassigned to the jail, but he predicted most would leave before taking a jail assignment.
DeYoung asked how staff shortages are affecting the jail population. Daniels said capacity is about 185 but because of COVID regulations he’s down to 150 inmates. He didn’t speculate on what the future may hold.
Fowler said he appreciated the Sheriff identifying the problems and that’s when he reminded everyone at Thursday’s meeting Josephine County residents don’t like a fully-funded county. That started a round of ideas from Commissioners and the Sheriff, who didn’t elaborate on his. DeYoung thought it might be a good idea to start asking millionaires in the county for donations, buy lottery tickets and give half to the sheriff and that all those who voted for higher taxes in the past should just pay anyway, even if the tax didn’t pass. Herman has been “testing” an idea around the county about a sheriff’s levy that would establish a board to oversee how the money is spent. He will be holding forums on that soon. Baertschiger also suggested borrowing from the road fund. While they all seemed to know about the Second Amendment defense in the county’s charter, they seemed to forget it also says (Section 14.7) that the “County shall not create any debt or liabilities which shall singly or in the aggregate, with previous debts or liabilities, exceed the sum of $5,000” with the exception of bonded indebtedness.
After listening to Novak spell out the impending budget disaster she challenged some of the ideas put out by commissioners, especially Baertschiger’s suggestion the county borrow enough money from the Road Department to float the sheriff at his current levels for a year. Baertschiger said this would give them time to come up with a more permanent solution.
When Novak asked how the debt would be paid back DeYoung flew into a rage.
“You keep asking ‘how you gonna pay for this, how you gonna pay for this (in a mocking tone). How are YOU going to pay for this. We’re trying to figure out a way but don’t want to destroy what the sheriff build up. How to sustain that one more year. You gotta give one more year not just say ‘how you gonna pay for it.’ We can’t impose that on the taxpayer. We have to go to the taxpayer. If I’d won the lotter last week I would’ve given half to the sheriff. I commend Commissioner Baertschiger (who DeYoung calls Bear Trigger) for trying to find a way to sustain us, to give us time to find that and you’ve gotta give us time to find that. That’s your….what he’s asking you to do is say yes, this can be done. Not say ‘well, I need to know how you’re going to pay for it!’ That’s not the issue right now. We’re looking at many ways to pay for it. We don’t know how to pay for it because you know what? We can’t impose that on the taxpayer. We have to go to the taxpayer for their approval to pay for it. I’m not gonna keep buying lottery tickets till I win. That isn’t sustainable Sandy. Quit asking us how we’re gonna pay for it. We know we gotta pay for it!” said DeYoung.
Novak started to explain but was interrupted twice. Baertschiger broke in to say “we also have six million dollars, a remaining balance of six million dollars which I hate to tap into but if we have to tap into and bring the general fund balance down to five million to get us through this next year than that’s what we have to do. I mean, you know, desperate times takes desperate actions and these are desperate actions.”
When Novak started to speak again DeYoung horned in. “….Almost everybody else in this organization is self-funded. Parks, Airports, you name it. Roads. All really work their buns off to be self-sustainable but law enforcement is not that way. It’s up to the taxpayer. I’ll tell you one way you can make a contribution. Write a check to the sheriff. If you’ve got a million dollars laying around, write a check to the sheriff, then he’s home free. We keep talking about…when, uhh, when we ask for a tax increase and nobody pays it and they all say ‘yeah’ I voted for it. Well, if the half of you who voted for it went ahead and paid it anyway, cause you already had it outta your budget, we’d be halfway there. But nope. THEY (people who voted against a tax) don’t pay so I don’t have to pay. And to be honest with you we can’t let the Sheriff go backward Sandy. And askin’ us how we’re gonna pay for it, we’re gonna give you the same answer we gave you yesterday and probably the same answer we’ll give you tomorrow. We need time to come up with a way to pay for that.”
When DeYoung ran out of breath and sat back, Novak took the opportunity to fire back in her quiet way.
“Well, the decision to use the fund balance, the decision to use debt, is 100 percent with the Commissioners. That’s not mine. My JOB is to say hey, how are you going to pay for that? Or what’s going to happen if we don’t have a fund balance. What’s gonna happen if we keep increasing FTE levels, knowing there’s not going to be funding next year for it. That’s my job. To ask those questions so that you can make a good decision. But the decision is yours,” she said.
Fowler came into the fray by saying “the smoke is still boiling out of my ears. This is a tough conversation.” He said he saw Novak’s point, that we’re just talking about digging a bigger hole “and so the solution is tough for a commissioner to come up with.” He predicted the board will probably have to come up with something to “put on the ballot.”
Baertschiger, finally realizing he’s Chairman, directed Novak to work on three things: one – see how much money can be gleaned from vacant general fund positions, two – find out about borrowing from the road department and how long they could take to pay it back and three – find out what would happen if we lowered the general fund balance. He said he didn’t like any of those options, that they were all kicking the can down the road and blamed the gradual reduction in timber receipts on the fix the county is in now.
“We get no help from our federal partners. None. Zero. Both our senators are on vacation when it comes to providing money for Josephine County that has 70 percent federal ownership and the don’t pay anything (property tax). There’s nothing I can do about that OK? As long as the voters keep voting these people in that’s what we’re stuck with. We can’t change that. So don’t concentrate on changing something that you cannot change. So, we’ve got to…and Dave, when we finally find you some funding you need to take the log truck off your patch. OK? Cause that log truck is no longer paying for your funding. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. So those are the things I want you to work on, general fund positions, eliminating those and shifting those dollars over to the sheriff’s department and reducing the balance of the general fund,” said Baertschiger.
Daniels said he hasn’t been sitting idle during this crisis. He told Commissioners he has a plan he’s currently vetting to the public at meetings around the county while also educating them about his department’s fiscal crisis. “ I’m probably going to ask the County Board of Commissioners to put something on the ballot in November of this year. And, so that being said, I need time.”
He again told the board that he really needs fiscal stability this year and a lifting of the hiring freeze because it takes so much time between when a new deputy or jail guard is hired and when he or she can start work. He said he will always have applicants because he is essentially giving them a skill they will be able to use if his department eventually loses positions.
Baertschiger ended the discussion by saying “the bottom line is, when we dial 911 we expect someone to come running. When you need help we should all come running too.”
Also Thursday, the board went over the gun sanctuary ordinance Hicks put together “almost word for word from the Yamhill ordinance.”
DeYoung talked about a lot of things this will prevent, even though the gun safety legislation passed in the Oregon State legislature didn’t have any of those provisions.
“If somebody told me if you came to my house to do a search and found more than 200 rounds of ammunition you’d have an arsenal or more than three guns you’d have an arsenal, does this ordinance stop that?” he asked.
Baertschiger said the ordinance’s purpose was to let the citizens of Josephine County know the Board of Commissioners wants to make sure your rights are protected. The ordinance will be presented at next Wednesday’s Business Session for action.
In a matter they could act upon, Commissioners Thursday gave the nod to Weber to waive late fees on restaurant permits, extending the grace period to March 1.
Herman Baertschiger on KMED with the Bill Meyer Show Jan. 4
Baertschiger mentioned the recall, saying he’s being recalled for asking questions and now the CDC contradictions are making his questions valid. He didn’t mention that his questions often involved supporting misinformation. He and Meyer talked about COVID rules people would tolerate as opposed to following, accused the Oregon legislature of wanting to keep the statehouse closed during their Feb/March session and questioned the legitimacy of a government that doesn’t let the people in to participate.
Baertschiger said he would like to have in-person Commissioners’ meetings but if they did the newspaper and some people would complain about people not wearing masks. Meyer suggested they meet at Taprock or Elmer’s and pretend to be eating so they wouldn’t have to wear masks. He said if things got tough they could even order a drink.
Meyer and Baertschiger mocked Dr. Fauci and others and said the relaxing of COVID rules even with Omicron causing a spike is proof they were right about the disease all along…that it isn’t as serious as people in government made it out to be and said the issue is “losing traction.”
They discussed crime and how the homeless lead to a rising level of disorder in the community and there was a reason for vagrancy laws in the past. Then they lamented the Oregon court system that has expanded homeless rights and said they hope some of these issues reach the Supreme Court. On warming shelters, while saying they don’t want people freezing to death, they said it’s always controversial to start one because people want to know who pays for it and they don’t want it in their backyards.
They discussed fire since Baertschiger seems to be Meyer’s resident expert. He asked Baertschiger if something like what happened in Colorado happen here? Baertschiger said because of our topography we don’t get the high winds like other places do but that we do have to be careful. He worried about adding more people to places like Dollar Mountain because it just increases the “incendiary” opportunities.