The following is the text of a letter sent to the Josephine County Commissioners last week.
December 4, 2012
Board of County Commissioners
Josephine County Courthouse
500 NW 6th Street
Grants Pass, OR 97526
Dear County Commissioners,
As you are well aware, Securing Our Safety (SOS) is a non-profit that formed in 2012 for the purposes of research and education on how to help the County provide the services that are required for a “secure, stable, and sustainable Josephine County.” To date our efforts have focused mostly on the local Criminal Justice program challenges as the Criminal Justice System is one of the key infrastructure components for our County along with the basic requirements of schools, roads, utilities and other core community needs.
SOS has gathered enough research and community input to make a specific recommendation that requires your immediate attention in order to keep elections options open for the coming year. SOS has been working on a variety of potential funding options and service options to restore Criminal Justice services. An SOS Natural Resources Committee was the spark that helped the County restore the Timber Advisory Board with a goal of quickly increasing local timber production on County lands and other lands in a sustainable manner. This group is already making great progress on ideas that could be one of many solutions needed to restore our community’s critical Criminal Justice services. While much progress has been made, it’s just a portion of the ultimate combination of solutions needed. Today, Commissioners need to schedule and approve an order that starts the process of creating a new Law Enforcement District to serve our local Criminal Justice programs.
SOS has learned that creating a Law Enforcement District has a number of specific steps required to start the official process of taking public input on the matter, the first of which needs to happen over the next week. More specifically, the first step at the County level is for the BCC to approve an order by December 19, 2012, that initiates the formation of the district. And since the SOS recommendation is that the Law Enforcement District cover the entire county with services shared by the entire County, the City of Grants Pass and the City of Cave Junction must approve to be a part of the new district prior to the BCC order to initiate the district. With your specific notification to the two cities that you intend to initiate district formation, the two cities could each act on a resolution to be included in the district on December 10th, allowing the BCC to consider the new district in your meeting on December 19, 2012.
After working on various solutions for nearly seven months and having so far gathered over 1000 surveys from our residents on the topic of Criminal Justice level of service and funding options, SOS can now confidently say that our residents want a higher level of service. We can also confidently say that if local taxes are part of the combination of eventual solutions, our residents would prefer that tax be a property tax (the most common and preferred way to fund local government services in Oregon). While our collection of community input will remain ongoing in coming months, some very preliminary survey statistics are now available on our website here:
Our recommendation involves a Law Enforcement District that would be formed for the purposes of minimal funding for specific Criminal Justice services that everyone in the County shares no matter whether they reside in one of the cities or out in the unincorporated parts of the County. The ultimate result is after a vote of the entire County, the new district would have a minimum property tax rate that would last until either residents vote to change it or Commissioners choose to levy less than the permanent authority of the new district. This would be a property tax rate significantly lower than the proposal in May of 2012, and would help meet the definition of a “secure, stable, and sustainable Josephine County.”
SOS requests that the BCC immediately begin the process of forming this district in order to meet the deadlines require for County residents to vote on this matter in May of 2013. May of 2013 would be the last reasonable opportunity for this partial funding solution to contribute to the County’s Fiscal 2014 budget should voters agree with the specifics of the eventual elections measure. The process must begin by your action on December 19th in order for the BCC to have the required hearings on this matter in January and February of 2013. Essentially, this initial action is not approving the district but rather beginning the official process of forming the district and holding the required hearings at the BCC level. By this action, the district option remains open next year if Commissioners choose to bring this to voters. Without this swift action, the potential partial funding contribution to our County’s badly needed Criminal Justice services would have to wait at least one additional fiscal year.
In today’s SOS meeting, the unanimous recommendation of the nearly 30 SOS members in attendance was that the County immediately initiate the formation of a Law Enforcement District that would provide funding for the Criminal Justice services all County residents share: The Adult Jail, Juvenile Justice, The District Attorney, Court Services, and Animal Control. This would allow the BCC enough time to hold the proper hearings on the new district idea in January and February and enough time to place the proposal on the May 2013 ballot for consideration by all County residents. Should you agree, please also immediately inform the cities of Cave Junction and Grants Pass of your intentions so they can each independently choose by Monday December 10th whether to be included in the district.
Securing Our Safety and the entire County thanks you for keeping options open as we approach yet another year with significant funding challenges for our Criminal Justice System. We look forward to participating in hearings on the district idea and sharing why it could be a great partial contribution to a series of solutions to our local funding challenges.
Jay Meredith, President and Board Chair
Securing Our Safety, Inc.