Budget pain: Sheriff won't fill openings

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department will spread its fiscal pain equally between the patrol and jail divisions to close a nearly $2 million budget gap.

The continuing sluggishness of the economy kept revenues down over the past year, forcing the agency to scale back its budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Sheriff Mike Winters said the bulk of the savings will come from not filling nearly 10 open positions in patrol and at the jail.

"We will not fill five positions in corrections and five positions in patrol," Winters said. "We wanted to have balance so one division wasn't hit harder than the other."

The agency is being asked to scale back its operating budget to $29 million for 2012-13. This is down from the nearly $31 million it worked under for 2011-12.

The cutbacks occur at a time when deputies are answering more calls for service than ever before.

"Our agency has gone from 27,759 calls for service in 2004 to over 52,000 in 2011," Winters said. "And we have done it with fewer positions available on patrol."

Winters said no layoffs are planned for deputy positions in the jail or patrol.

The layoffs already have occurred in the civil division, which services foreclosure notices.

"We had to lay off part-time positions in civil in order to keep from cutting a full-time deputy," Winters said.

The drawback is that patrol deputies now will have to make time to serve foreclosure papers to those who are not making their mortgage payments, Winters said.

"Those will be times when they could be answering service calls," Winters said. "It's unfortunate, but serving civil papers is an important process that has to be done correctly."

Meanwhile, corrections deputies could be asked to work overtime to keep the jail fully staffed, Winters said.

"It's cheaper to have a few work overtime than to fill the open positions," Winters said. "It's not the way we would prefer to do it, but it's what has to be done."

Unlike nearby counties such as Josephine and Curry, Jackson County will not have to cut jail beds to save money, Winters said.

"As bad as it is, it could be much worse," Winters said. "In Jackson County, the current and former commissioners and the county administrator have done an excellent job keeping us fiscally disciplined."

Winters said the agency will continue to provide 24-hour patrols over the county's 2,800 square miles.

However, because patrol overtime will be closely monitored in the coming year, the agency won't be able to dedicate as many deputies to events such as the Jackson County Fair and won't be able to pursue as many marijuana gardens deep in the woods during the summer.

"We will continue to do these things when we can, but it's going to be tough going," Winters said.

To save money for search-and-rescue operations next summer, Winters plans to hold recruitment efforts for volunteers willing to comb the wildlands for lost hikers and hunters.

Last year, the agency logged 18,000 volunteer hours in search and rescue. Winters hopes to increase that in the next fiscal year.

"It's going to take everyone coming together to make this work," Winters said. "But we believe we can keep this county safe with the resources we have. But it's going to get harder to do this in the future."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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