Josephine County sheriff warns of 'fiscal cliff'

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel gave a glimpse into the operations of his pared-down department Tuesday, in a presentation before the county Budget Committee, and he reluctantly warned about a "fiscal cliff like no other" coming next year if funding issues aren't solved.

He also said calls for service were up, as are permits issued for carrying concealed weapons.

Here are some highlights from his presentation:

  • More than 2,000 permits allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons were processed so far this fiscal year, up from 1,200 in all of the previous fiscal year.

  • Nearly 14,100 calls for service were received in 2015, up from about 10,100 in 2014.

  • Patrol deputies are now on the road 10 hours a day, seven days a week, with an average of two or three deputies on each shift.

  • There were 208 "forced releases" from the Josephine County Jail in the fiscal year that ended last June, meaning the jail released that many inmates due to lack of resources.

The number of sheriff's department positions in the last 10 years ranged from a high of 100 five years ago to 37 three years ago. The current number is 56. The bulk of employees work in the county jail.

Cuts in federal subsidies have prompted the staffing reductions. Funding through the federal Secure Rural Schools Act has been declining, down from about $12 million a year to $4.5 million a year in the last decade.

Daniel warned of cuts that probably would mean the loss of all road patrols and deep cuts in the number of inmates held in the jail — what he called "a fiscal cliff like no other" — if the federal funding is not renewed or if other funding is not found to replace it.

Since 2012, voters have turned down four public safety levies designed to make up the shortfall. In response, Oregon State Police have stepped in to respond to emergencies when deputies are not on duty, and the city of Grants Pass has imposed a utility fee to rent 28 jail beds, at a cost of about $1 million a year.

Daniel made his predictions about possible cuts next year in answer to a question from committee member Steve Welch.

"I try to be positive," Daniel replied. "I'm not doing it to instill fear. I don't like spreading that. That's just reality."

The Budget Committee is reviewing the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The six-member committee, composed of all three county commissioners and three citizens, is due to meet next at 4 p.m. May 17, at the Anne Basker Auditorium, 600 N.W. Sixth St.

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