Public safety levy would add police, jailers

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) Umatilla County voters will decide Nov. 5 on two local option taxes that would add 18 patrol deputies to the sheriff's office, provide round-the-clock coverage across the county and increase the jail capacity by almost 40 percent.

Sheriff Terry Rowan says the taxes are crucial to providing public safety that citizens expect.

The East Oregonian reports Rowan and county commissioner Bill Elfering have a barnstorming tour of 25 engagements before November in which they'll urge voters to support the pair of measures.

The first measure would fund the county's law enforcement district at the rate of 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to raise $2.2 million.

The levy would go into effect in 2014 and expire after five years.

At present, there are not enough deputies to keep one on duty at all times of the day and night all week.

"We're critical we've got to get a handle on the criminal element out there," Rowan said.

With current funding, the county has seven patrol deputies with a position open for an eighth.

A second measure would tax everyone inside the county 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value that would raise $1.6 million for the county jail, dispatch center and civil services.

In both measures, people living on the Umatilla Indian Reservation are exempt.

Funding for the 252-bed jail has been difficult since voters approved its construction 18 years ago.

It currently holds about 160 inmates per day, but the sheriff's office has never had enough staff to fill all the beds. The levy would add eight employees to the corrections division, for a total staff of 37, and Rowan said that would allow the jail to hold an average of 220 people per day.

Elfering, the county commissioner, said there is no way to cut other departments to expand funding for the sheriff's office.

Oregon law mandates the county provide certain services, including law enforcement, health services and a road department.

Those divisions are all operating at the bottom line. The county has cut employees from 440 to about 300 during the last decade.