A few miles from our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods, we’re witnessing an act of economic, civic and politically assisted suicide being committed by residents of Curry County. It’s a deliberate failure to shoulder local fiscal responsibility unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Especially considering Curry has one of the very lowest property tax rates in the state.
Curry County borders California on the South and the Pacific Ocean on the West. It’s a bit isolated. About 25,000 people live there – give or take one more retiree. Over 50% of monthly deposits in financial institutions in the area come from government benefits or retirement plans – many from out-of-state. Gives you an idea of the age and status of the population.
Of the dozen or so Oregon counties hurting right now because of the reduction – and pending elimination – of a federal subsidy paid in lieu of taxes on local federal timber lands, Curry is in the worst shape. The county has three towns – Brookings-Harbor, Gold Beach and Port Orford. City and county budget cuts made over the last couple of years already have gotten into muscle and bone. Unemployment, homelessness and crime are all above normal. Even for there.
Sheriff John Bishop is working with nearly no resources. He’s already on half-staff, not covering the county several hours each day, reduced patrols and living with a jail that’s mediaeval. People are being arrested – some more than once – arraigned and turned loose. Bishop is a hardworking professional dealing with the worst county civic support in Oregon.
This month, Curry commissioners put a special property tax question on the ballot with all future proceeds – all – going to law enforcement. If passed, city homeowners faced a property tax increase of $1.97 per thousand evaluation – county residents $1.84 per thousand. The hope was to raise $5.4 million for the jail, Sheriff’s Office, juvenile department and the district attorney. Absolutely no question about need. None.
On election day, just under 50% of the 13,501 registered voters took time to do their duty. Final count: 44% yes – 56% no. Killed big time. One of the commissioners was absolutely giddy. “I think the failure is an opportunity – huge opportunity to sit with citizens and see what we can do. It’s all good!”
To understand how goofy those remarks are, you should know an 18-member committee of local, very experienced citizens – selected by the county commission – spent nearly a year with expert outside consulting, going over every dime in recent budgets. With a great deal more talent than is represented on the current commission, that group came up with more than a dozen, well-researched ideas to deal with the situation. Answers.
The report was shelved and ignored. There’s some evidence some of the appointers may not have even ead it.
Sheriff Bishop has been very, very clear about the situation. Without the tax, many criminals will not be arrested, no officers may be available to promptly respond to even the worst crimes, should an arrest be made there may be no place to jail the offender. Curry County is already a favored spot of – as the Sheriff puts it – “the Mexican Mafia” for back country marijuana growing, insurance rates for homeowners and businesses are going up because of increased crime and reduced law enforcement, the county’s liabilities and the sheriff’s obligations – required by law – to maintain safety and welfare are becoming impossible.
He’s got an additional problem from neighboring Josephine County which previously rejected a law enforcement tax levy. Criminals arrested are charged and routinely released because the jail is all but closed. At least two armed posse comitatus groups are circulating in rural parts of that county. Just a matter of time till someone gets killed. And that action is spilling over into Curry thanks to Highway 199.
“But wait,” as they say in those irritating commercials. “There’s more!”
The Oregon Legislature is working on several bills to handle the situation if Curry goes down the tubes. Which is becoming more likely. But the three city councils and the commissioners are fighting because each is afraid the State would take local revenues and reapportion them based on need and not by the old traditional formulas. Somebody could come up short.
So – here’s the picture. Within weeks, Curry County is likely to be insolvent. Bankrupt. Local law enforcement is becoming increasingly unable to carry out responsibilities of safety and citizen welfare. Crime and unemployment are rising. Homeowner and business insurance rates are going up as a result. Some folks are moving out. More businesses will fail. Local elected officials are at each other’s throats. And citizens are firmly unwilling to fix it.
Oregon is an “assisted suicide” state. But the law says the patient must already be in a terminal condition. Residents of Curry County have gone beyond that. They’re actively killing their way of life. And that’s murder.