County Government: Get the Facts!

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For more information:
Josephine County online – Charts and Graphs

 

Where do our Property Tax dollars go?

You keep trying to sell the voters that we are only paying $.58 in property tax.  In reality we are paying about $6.27, plus paying for our own Fire Service.  What voters would like to see examined is where the other $5.69 is going, and why none of that is targeted for reduction instead of Law Enforcement.  Any inquiries in this area are always simply dismissed as “Mandatory”.  It would be interesting to see exactly what is more “Mandatory” than Law Enforcement.        – A voter in Merlin

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We in Josephine County do pay more than $0.58 per thousand. That’s true. It is also true that property owners in the rural areas of the County pay for their own fire service. Outside the Illinois Valley, they get it from private, for-profit companies. Note that not everyone chooses to sign up for these services; the costs for those who choose not to are passed along to those who do, in the form of higher rates. Illinois Valley residents voted to create a special taxing district, the Illinois Valley Fire District, so property taxes fund fire service for all IV residents.

The total amount of property tax you pay depends upon where you live and ranges from $5.94 to $12.49.  Most of this money funds services other than public safety, including schools, 4-H, Forestry, Rogue Community College, and bond payments. For Grants Pass residents, who pay the highest taxes, most of their tax bill goes to fund City services.

By law, funds from these other taxing districts can’t be shifted to the Sheriff’s Office, because these tax rates were set by the ballot initiatives that created them.

County voters could choose to reduce the amount of taxes they pay for, say, RCC, or 4-H. However, to do this, an initiative would have to be put on the ballot and passed by voters. Such a ballot initiative would have to specify both that these rates would be reduced and that the difference would be transferred to public safety. The County can’t simply take this money and use it for another purpose. To do so would break the law.

Regardless of where you live in Josephine County, the amount that goes to the General Fund – part of which is used to fund public safety – is still just $0.587 per thousand dollars of property value. That money has to pay for all services paid for by the County, not just public safety but also such items as the assessor’s office and maintenance for County-owned property. (Note that your property taxes no longer pay for County Parks or libraries. Those services have been eliminated from the County budget. The parks and libraries now support themselves through other means.)

It’s also important to note that there is a big difference between the “assessed value” and the “market value” of a property. When Measure 50 passed in 1997, property values were rolled back to 1994 levels and increases were capped at 3% annually. This means that even though property values in Josephine County have increased dramatically in the past 20 years, the “assessed value” on which the County collects taxes has fallen behind, so property tax revenues haven’t kept up.

Finally, keep in mind that the 58 cents per thousand has been fixed at the same rate since 1996. The portion of this 58 cents that is allocated to public safety has actually increased in the past several years, thanks to vast reductions in other areas of the budget – including cuts in the County’s payroll, from more than 600 employees to less than half that today. But the reallocation still must be within that 58 cents. The rest of your tax bill can’t be touched without voter approval.

Overall spending on public safety has been drastically reduced since the end of the federal Secure Rural Schools Act’s subsidies. These payments were $12 million as recently as 2008-09. This is more than three times the entire amount that Josephine County currently collects in property taxes for County use – only part of which can go to pay for public safety.

So the short answer to the question is that yes, money could be shifted within the General Fund to pay for law enforcement. However, much of this reallocation has already been done. Funds from other areas of the budget – which represent the majority of the property taxes you pay – can’t be moved to pay for law enforcement without approval from the voters, by ballot initiative.

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