I interviewed Darin Fowler for the Illinois Valley News. Here it is, below:
What is your vision for the future of JoCo law enforcement and how do you anticipate funding that vision?
Fowler proposed a three-legged funding strategy, stating that “every effort should be made to fully fund the Josephine County Criminal Justice system in order to keep every citizen safe. This includes all aspects of criminal justice including 24-hour patrols, full-time detectives, jail services, and operation of the youth detention facility.”
He stated that alternative funding to an increase in property taxes includes a local cannabis production tax on commercial grow operations, fighting for a greater share of the state’s dispensary tax, and the need to continue work on the lawsuit that multiple Oregon counties, including Josephine, have undertaken against the federal government to seize back full logging rights of the O&C lands.
But when pressed, Fowler agreed that none of the proposed funding sources are wholly within the county’s power.
For instance, the county is already taxing dispensaries at the maximum allowed by state law: three percent.
“We’re already getting that three percent off of dispensaries and it’s not very much,” said Fowler. “But that’s only at the dispensaries. The thing I’m talking about is at the source: the farming of the cannabis.”
State law as it stands, does not allow counties to tax cannabis production, only the retail end of the industry. Counties like Josephine where marijuana production is a large part of the local economy as opposed to the retail end of the industry, have been lobbying the state legislature to allow local taxation of recreational marijuana grows.
“[Commissioner] Dan DeYoung .. has a proposal at the state level,” said Fowler. “It didn’t make it through the state legislature this year, but probably will, yes or no, next year. That’s the one I put a lot of stock in. They [cannabis growers] need to be taxed just like a regular business and not think they have a golden goose and can just come and make money off of us.”
Fowler added that, although there are no guarantees, there seemed to be an initial promising reaction by legislators.
“I think if we’re going to fund more [above the current level of law enforcement funding] we’re going to find it from the state or federal government. I don’t think we have to go to the property owners. They’re already tired.”
What are your specific proposals for encouraging economic growth and job creation in the rural areas of the county?
Fowler stated that economic growth and job creation can be encouraged by improving both of our county’s airports and its industrial parks and building a motel/resort to cater to those wanting to visit the Illinois Valley. He added that there is ample property to create additional biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails, and suggested the county could enhance Page Mountain Sno-Park, our county’s only snow recreation area.
Fowler also suggested working with local businesses to develop internship/apprenticeship programs.
“Too many of our young people feel they have to leave Josephine County in order to embark upon a career that earns a living wage. ”
He added that there needs to be a change in attitude among county officials from putting up barriers to local business to helping them, whether through tax breaks or giving them a break on permit fees or charges for new infrastructure.
“But,” he said, “I don’t think we need to create new opportunities for new businesses until we come alongside existing businesses and make sure they can do the things they want to do to create jobs.”
What role do you see the marijuana industry playing in rural economic development and job creation?
“Long-term careers in the market will be few,” said Fowler. “But other businesses could benefit from the success of the industry.”
“I would actually like to see many of these marijuana businesses turn to the growing of hemp, a much more versatile and useful product,” he added.
What is your position on the zoning issue with respect to both medical and recreational marijuana farming?
Fowler stated he is against commercial grows in Rural-Residential-zoned lots, and would allow them only on farmland-zoned properties. He cited Jackson County as a model. In 2016 Jackson County passed an ordinance that allows commercial grows only on farm or forest land.
Jackson County defines commercial grows as more than ten plants.
In what specific ways, such as regulatory, public infrastructure and finance, do you see the county supporting the development of affordable housing, especially multi-family housing?
“I cannot overstress the importance of our need to do whatever we can to encourage the building of multi-family and low income housing,” Fowler said. He also said he supports the approval of the Lincoln Meadows project in Grants Pass, a proposed 52-unit low income, multi-family housing development that has been stalled due to neighborhood opposition.
Fowler added that incentivizing property redevelopment by reducing or eliminating permit fees and infrastructure charges would encourage individual developers and property development companies to create more housing opportunities.
With respect to development of multi-family development in rural Josephine County, Fowler pointed out that state land use regulations would probably prohibit higher density development except in or near the two incorporated cities of Grants Pass and Cave Junction.
What are some tools the county is either making use of now or can make use of in the future to ameliorate the homelessness problem?
Fowler distinguished homelessness from vagrancy and transiency. “I think homelessness is more of a temporary thing, where people are by circumstance pushed out of their existing place.” He noted that there are a lot of help agencies for such people, when they have a desire to “pick themselves up and move forward,” He listed United Community Action Network (UCAN), Dorcas Community Services, Gospel Rescue Mission and Josephine County Salvation Army as examples, and reiterated the need for affordable housing development.
But he added that the others, “who have found the cracks in our society and live outside the lines” should be encouraged to “move along to Eugene or Portland.”
Fowler stated that the veteran who is struggling with problems such as addiction and PTSD and may be living in a tent out in the woods is a special case. He characterized such cases as “tweeners,” between vagrancy and homelessness, and noted that the Veterans Administration has the primary responsibility in such cases, as the county does not have the resources.
He suggested the county can encourage vagrants and transients to leave by passing an ordinance against panhandling vehicle drivers and by clearing illegal camps.
Same question as above, but with respect to the meth and opioid addiction problem?
“Josephine County has taken positive steps in dealing with this problem by providing treatment programs, opening a methadone clinic and the Sobering Center, and awareness campaigns to prevent accidental access,” Fowler said. “However, increasing our funding to the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, is equally important to eradicate these problems.”
What is your position on the lawsuit Josephine County has joined with respect to logging on the O&C lands?
Fowler characterized the O&C land use/logging lawsuit as of vital importance. “Not only has the federal government done an extremely poor job of properly maintaining our forest lands, they have taken away nearly all of our rights as a state to responsibly log those lands. We must continue to press the federal government to release our public lands, or at the very least to restart the O&C payments from the original agreements. ”