County may impose tax for law enforcement after defeat by voters

Update

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Voters in Curry County have rejected a $3.2 million public safety tax increase that would have tripled local property taxes to restore law enforcement services cut as the federal government ends timber subsidies.

County Commission Chairman David Brock Smith said Wednesday he will call the governor's office to talk about whether an emergency declaration is needed to prop up county finances.

A new state law gives the governor and county commissioners authority to jointly declare a public safety emergency if voters refuse to support minimum services. An emergency declaration allows commissioners to impose a surcharge on an existing tax to cover half the budget gap, and the state would pick up the rest.

The earliest commissioners could vote on the issue is Thursday.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

Earlier

GOLD BEACH, Ore. (AP) — Voters in southern Oregon's Curry County appear to have rejected a property tax increase, and their decision Tuesday could eventually test a new public safety emergency funding law.

Early election results showed 58 percent voting no and 42 percent voting yes.

Residents were asked to approve tripling their county property tax rate — the lowest in the state at 59 cents per $1,000 valuation — to raise $3.3 million a year for sheriff's patrols, the jail and other law enforcement.

"It's unfortunate that the citizens did not pass this three-year funding bridge," County Commission Chairman David Brock Smith said.

"We will work together with citizens to craft a funding solution that can be palatable," he said. "I know in these economic times it can be difficult for people to look at their checkbook and decide whether they can afford added taxes."

Smith said he hopes to offer county voters another proposal in May. Current public safety funding only runs through the middle of next year.

County officials will also begin talks with the governor's office about declaring a public safety emergency if need be, Smith said.

"We have to ensure the public safety of our citizens," he said.

An emergency declaration would allow county commissioners to impose a surcharge on some existing tax to fill half the budget gap, and the state to pick up the rest.

The Legislature enacted the law this year in anticipation that rural counties like Curry would face funding crises related to declines in federal subsidies to timber counties, and voters' refusal to increase their taxes.

The county had proposed a three-year levy. By the end of that time, county officials hope that legislation will have been enacted by Congress to boost logging on federal lands in Western Oregon known as the O&C lands.

Counties with O&C lands within their borders get a 50 percent share of revenues from timber sold. Revenues have been declining since the 1990s due to logging cutbacks on federal forests to protect fish and wildlife habitat and clean water.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press