Josephine County Commissioners Meetings
July 12th, 2023 Discussions of the Law Enforcement District
July 12 2023 JoCo Commissioners meeting
“We…we have to keep some insanity in our community and our county,” said Josephine County Commissioner John West at the July 12 Business session. West’s Freudian slip while he was trying to say something about why the board started the process to put a proposed Law Enforcement District on the November ballot revealed why Sheriff Dave Daniels will have to work very, very hard to get his last effort to fund his department approved before it tumbles into financial catastrophe. In Josephine County it is insanely difficult to get a necessary tax passed and some people like it that way.
Commissioners held the first of two public hearings necessary to get an idea Sheriff Daniel and a mysterious citizens committee believe will be palatable to Josephine County voters: a law enforcement district in which a 99 cents per thousand permanent tax is created. The final hearing will be held during their Aug. 2 meeting.
The City of Grants Pass and close-by urban interface areas already included in city services will be left out of the district. Sheriff Daniel said this will stabilize his department and hopefully provide some security for his deputies who currently don’t know if they’ll have a job when the current patchwork of funding runs out.
“I’m tired of losing people to other agencies upwards of $800,000 and just wasting money for people that are hired and trained and then take off in 18 months or two years to another agency,” said Daniel. “It’s not everything, but it’s something,” he said. “Really, what we’re looking at is down the road is nothing, so hopefully this is something that is palatable to our citizenry and the concept is to get them the opportunity to take a vote, take a stab at this November 6.”
So far, Commissioners have distanced themselves from the district idea, preferring to say this is a grassroots citizens’ effort to help the sheriff, who is operating on windfall COVID funding through this year. Before opening the public hearing Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger repeated his oft’ told tale, How We Got Here, going back to 1937 when the Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act (O&C) was passed, directing the Department of the Interior to harvest timber from O&C lands and give counties 50 percent of the sales receipts. Josephine County used the receipts to keep taxes very low but that backfired when Measure 5 came along in 1990 and froze the tax rate at the county’s unsustainable level of just under 59 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value. Since then the sheriff’s department, almost totally dependent on county tax revenue, has suffered the most. Other county departments keep going with grants and fees, but while there are law enforcement grants for special projects, like illegal marijuana eradication, those funds can’t be used to keep the department running.
After Baertschiger’s story, the public hearing was opened. Only one person spoke, a woman who thought all the property annexed to the library district would be exempt from the tax. She was told that wasn’t the case. DeYoung explained to her how districts work, then added to Baertschiger’s history lesson by going through how Measure 5 caught the county with its tax rate down. He said as far as law enforcement “we’re at the end of the tunnel now.”
Two people who didn’t speak during the public hearing gave their opinions of the district proposal during the regular public comment period. Mark Jones said the law enforcement service district is a “great start” to providing peace of mind for the citizens and “we need this district to pass.” Jones said he hopes the same kinds of “propaganda” that killed the proposed fire district a few years ago doesn’t interfere in this effort.
“Citizens beware. Please do your own real research and get the truth. And please stop relying on Facebook for answers,” said Jones.
Bill Hunker took a different approach.
“There’s a misconception that a taxing district will stop or delay future levies. Not true. In fact, the next levy will be a mandatory one in four years when the current jail levy expires,” said Hunker. “And once they figure out the new district’s 99 cents is not actually adequate another new levy will be proposed and then we’ll have two levies and a district to grapple with,” he said.
After Hunker made his points no one else rose to speak so board members took their turn to comment. DeYoung said he was sympathetic to Hunker’s points, especially his allegation that 99 cents isn’t enough to meet all the Sheriff’s needs, but it may have a better chance of passing because voters may find it palatable.
“There’s a lot of history in this valley of what people will swallow and what they won’t,” said DeYoung. “So you know you’ve got some good points Bill, but I’ve got to argue with you on one thing. It’s what will the people out here swallow? What will make them pick that spoon up? And it’s where that decimal point is. It’s in front of the 9 instead of behind a one.”
West emphasized what the Board just did gives the voters the choice. Baertschiger said as for how much money the sheriff will need “I cannot predict the future.” After warning about inflation and a coming recession ever since Biden was elected president, Baertschiger backtracked his prediction skills. “If I was 100 percent on predicting the future I would not be here. I’d have an office in Wall Street.”
At the end of the meeting, Baertschiger couldn’t resist bashing Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol, who is the subject of yet another recall effort by people Baertschiger supports. Baertschiger said he heard on National Public Radio (which is Jefferson Public Radio locally) that the mayor said the reason the homeless problem is a problem is “the commissioners denied emergency funding and that when she requested it we laughed at her. We did not laugh at her. I wish she would review the tape.” Baertschiger said Commissioners last April “asked her some good questions like how is 260 people who do not want to be part of our society and live under our rules constitute an emergency?
Last spring newly elected Gov. Tina Kotek announced she was providing millions of dollars to counties that were under a homeless emergency. Josephine County Commissioners refused to declare an emergency even though the city has been grappling with a growing problem in its parks. During city/county meetings Baertschiger interrupted Bristol several times when she was trying to respond to his questions and then shut down the discussion. Afterward, Baertschiger said he got “crickets” when he asked for the city’s plan for the homelessness funds so they refused to declare the emergency. Since then Baertschiger has had several different explanations for why the Commission did not declare an emergency like Jackson County did without fanfare. During this meeting Baertschiger said “by declaring an emergency you open the door for a suspension of our citizen civil rights. Most people don’t realize that. I do,” he declared.