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SOS Board comments on JoCo “Public Safety Fiscal Emergency” consideration

Here is a letter sent to the Josephine County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff today.  If you have an opinion on this topic, reach out to your Commissioners and provide your input as soon as possible as this issue is currently under consideration!

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Dear JoCo Commissioners and Sheriff,

We appreciate the ability to comment on this issue, as this is probably the most important discussion you will have in 2016.

The following are comments approved from the Board of Directors of Securing Our Safety (SOS), a local non-profit that has been working hard on solving this crisis ever since it began in the summer of 2012.  Please enter this letter into the record for your deliberations on this issue and let us know if you have any questions about these recommendations.

First of all, yes you should immediately send the letter asking the Governor to declare public safety fiscal emergency in Josephine County.  This is because we have been in a public safety fiscal crisis ever since the summer of 2012 and it could get even worse next year as the federal (SRS) funds are currently set to be phased out entirely next year.  Please consider adding in your letter a link to the following video we put together last summer as this short 11 minute video could potentially “say” more than any written letter would say:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSsnmGBGf5g

More videos that tell more details of the story of the crisis our County is in are available on that YouTube channel from what we produced last year.  And the state of Law Enforcement and Justice Services in JoCo only seems to have worsened in the last year.  Obviously when most of the County Justice system went away in 2012 due to budget cuts and the reductions in federal funding, some of the effects were not felt right away…but the more time that is going by the more severe this crisis has become.  And it could get much worse next year as SRS funds may not be renewed in any amount.  We need this emergency declaration today, but we may need it even more next year.

We also believe that the Sheriff and all Commissioners should sign the letter to the Governor.  Needless to say the Sheriff will be highly involved in consulting on this IGA in addition to the BCC…in fact consulting with many levels of County and state officials is required under this law.  After sending the letter, if you have not already you should immediately consult with our State reps that cover any part of JoCo as well as our State Senator as by law they will all be part of this process.

The State Law makes it clear that the Governor cannot “force” any taxes on our County, therefore you might consider reaffirming in your letter that by our own charter a new tax cannot and should not be put in place without a vote of JoCo residents.  And the law also says that existing sources of County revenue may be used to match 50% of the costs of the agreement, which is potentially another reason to act right away rather than wait until later this year or next year.

You should immediately work with the Governor to see if an acceptable IGA can be drafted.  This has never been done before so it will take some time.  Asking the Governor to declare this emergency does not bind us to anything, it merely opens up the ability to negotiate for assistance.  And despite the IGA not taking effect until after the 2017 Legislative Session, it really needs to be completed well ahead of that session if possible so there is at least six months to plan for the budget for the Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2017.  The more time we have to plan for the potential ending of Federal SRS funds the better, and the more your public safety staff will appreciate that there is a potential short-term bridge funding source in place to replace the ending of the SRS funds if that does in fact happen (it will help to avoid losing more valuable and trained staff in the County Sheriff and County Justice programs that are currently very nervous about the pending 2nd fiscal cliff).

It appears that the County could have access to State matching funds of $3-$5 million per year for at least 18 months by matching existing revenues under this State law.  If you get to the point of negotiating an IGA under this law, you should request the highest matching amount possible with existing revenues (not any new taxes).  And you should also try to work out two 18 month periods rather than just one 18 month period, because the provisions of this law go away in January of 2018 and if the IGA is accepted you will only be about 6 months into the agreement when the provisions of this law go away.  And it will probably take more than 18 months to figure out how to fund the proper level of public safety in JoCo on a sustainable basis.

And while this may not need to be part of the IGA negotiation, it doesn’t seem prudent to try and make any new tax a portion of the dollars that match state dollars under this agreement.  By our charter, any new tax has to be voted on by JoCo residents, and presumably that tax if put in place under this state law might go away when this new IGA with the state goes away.  Since it’s a costly a time consuming process to put up a ballot measure and there would be limited time this IGA would be in place, we would suggest you focus on using existing revenues as a match for the agreement and not any new taxes.

Declaring an emergency and receiving some financial assistance from the state could just buy Josephine County the time it needs to work in a more collaborative fashion with all stakeholders in this discussion to solve this problem on a more sustainable basis going forward.  Please refer to our recommendations from earlier this year for the “Round Table of Josephine County.”

We believe that the only way out of this crisis is for County officials to directly interact with its residents and interested County citizen groups in a more collaborative fashion rather than the “us versus them” attitude that many County residents seem to be feeling right now.  The “Round Table of Josephine County” proposal could help with that, as its core it is just a formalized way to make sure the citizen’s voice is heard and that citizens that desire to offer public safety budget or funding proposals have a direct way to submit those proposals to the County and have them evaluated.

Everyone needs to be “at the table” to solve the most severe financial crisis that our County has seen in recent times, one that looks to potentially get much more severe in 2017.  It will take some time to bring and work with everyone at the table.  The funding that this IGA with the State could potentially offer through declaring a Public Safety Fiscal Emergency could be just what we need to avoid having to close our County Jail entirely next year, lay off the few remaining members of the sheriff patrol staff, and lay off some staff in the DA’s office next year.  We also need this bridge emergency funding so that we can take the appropriate amount of time to figure out how public safety in Josephine County should be funded on a sustainable basis going forward.

At this point, the only thing that has been tried (as far as financial measures) at the County level is property tax levies…County residents want to restore our Safety and Law Enforcement services but it also seems clear that the majority of JoCo residents want some alternatives to funding critical law enforcement services entirely by property taxes.  There are sure to be other ways if we work together to focus on alternatives.  We need the Governor to declare an emergency so we can at least see if there is a possibility of financial assistance via a match to existing revenues in a temporary IGA.

Since under this law the State cannot force a tax on our County, we should attempt to negotiate an IGA with the State under the terms of matching existing revenues only…not new taxes implemented as part of state law 753.  And we should move quickly and should try and negotiate for a term greater than 18 months, if possible.

Sincerely,

 

Board of Directors

Securing Our Safety

www.SecuringOurSafety.org

MISSION STATEMENT:

“A citizen-voiced plan to provide for a secure, stable and sustainable Josephine County.”