Josephine County sheriff takes another budget hit

GRANTS PASS — Budget cuts effective Tuesday will reduce the number of allowed Josephine County sheriff's deputies to 16, compared with 22 now and 33 six years ago.

"We don't have enough (deputies) to provide adequate law enforcement," said Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. "We're going to face the challenges as best we can."

He said deputy response time to calls might be "considerable."

In addition, reductions of 25 percent in jail staffing have lowered the number of prisoners that can be held, and the jail now has 40 percent fewer inmates than six years ago.

The jail typically has about 105 inmates today, down from 170 six years ago. It opened eight years ago with room for 262.

Jail staffers will drop from 41 to 31 on Tuesday.

The Sheriff's Office budget will lose $800,000 of its $9.8 million.

Most of the cuts are tied to the loss of federal timber revenues, and Gilbertson said they come amid rising violence.

The last nine months saw at least four rural homicides, a murder-suicide and an officer-involved shooting.

In the last year, the office has fielded only one daily patrol shift, with state police helping to fill gaps. At times, no deputy will be on duty in the county, according to Sue Watkins, business manager for the Sheriff's Office.

At the same time the number of Oregon State Police troopers based in the county will increase from seven to nine, said OSP Lt. Brian Powers.

When three state troopers are on duty in the county, one can cover the isolated Illinois Valley, Powers said. Also available are 22 troopers working out of Central Point near Medford, up from 13 a year ago.

"You have to triage where you're going to work," Powers said. "I feel the Sheriff's Office's pain."

The department currently has vacancies it can't afford to fill, and only two deputies are actually losing their jobs in the latest cuts, Watkins said.

One job was saved last week when Cave Junction agreed to pay $100,000 for a deputy who would be assigned to the city, which lacks a municipal police department.

If voters approve a tax increase proposal in November, the jail could fill to capacity and patrol staffing would rise to 36, according to Sheriff's Office estimates.

Voters will decide if they want to form two districts: one outside Grants Pass to fund patrols and detectives, and one countywide to fund the jail and other sheriff's services.

Each would cost property owners roughly $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

— The Associated Press

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