Hare warns jail could close in 2017

A proposal to form an independent district to fund local law enforcement services fell short of approval on Tuesday, an outcome that Commissioner Simon Hare warned could lead to Josephine County's jail closing in 2017.

Hare and fellow Commissioner Keith Heck split on the idea, as Heck declined to second the motion made by Hare to take the next legal step to form the district, which would eventually have to be approved by voters.

Commissioner Cherryl Walker was on vacation, but on Monday she objected to the law enforcement district being put on the agenda.

A majority vote would have simply authorized a letter to the city councils of Grants Pass and Cave Junction to get the ball rolling on a district, with no guarantees the next board would approve it in January.

Proposed by Hare, the district as allowed by state law would have charged 93 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to those inside the district, which would encompass the entire county.

But County Legal Counsel Wally Hicks said Tuesday's tie vote guaranteed the service district will not be on the May 2017 ballot because of the timeline requirements. That means an entire year will be lost before the next potential vote on law enforcement, as there is no ballot planned for fall 2017.

"This was do or die," Hicks said afterward.

It was apparently an unfortunate timeline, as Hare was away at an Association of Oregon Counties meeting last week and Walker's long-scheduled vacation was this week.

And the last failed law enforcement vote — Measure 17-74 — was just two weeks ago.

County law enforcement agencies — sheriff patrols, juvenile justice, the jail, the District Attorney's Office — have struggled in recent years to make ends meet as federal subsidies that replaced timber tax revenue have dwindled. The latest effort to pass a public safety levy, at $1.42 per $1,000 of assessed value, failed in the Nov. 8 general election.

Hare was angry as he left the Basker Auditorium.

"The fiscal reality is going to be extremely bleak," he said via email later in the day. "What services are going to be reduced is a decision the next board will be forced to address."

During the session Tuesday morning, Hare further elaborated.

"Closing the jail is very likely next year," he warned Heck prior to the vote. "By voting no, you are removing the options of the next board."

Heck, who was unseated for a second term by Grants Pass City Councilor Dan DeYoung, said the county has exhausted its chances. Voters have now rejected five funding proposals since 2012, the year budget cuts decimated the Sheriff's Office.

"I'm never going to promote or propose a levy or proposition," Heck said. "It has to come from the people."

Hare, DeYoung and Lily Morgan, DeYoung's former colleague on the Grants Pass City Council, will form the next board.

Citizen speakers on Tuesday were against any more public funding requests for law enforcement. A group of two dozen or so opponents attended the hearing, with several demonstrating outside the Basker Auditorium.

"What Simon Hare is proposing is a Hail Mary," said Mike Jones of Grants Pass, noting that city voters are about to be asked to approve a $129 million bond to replace two middle schools in Grants Pass. "No way in hell."

Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com.

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