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Polk County Public Safety Headed For Ballot - Voters Will Make Decision In May Election

Important Questions Regarding the County Public Safety Levy

Polk County Public Safety Levy Headed for Ballot

Polk County Public Safety Levy Headed for Ballot

POLK COUNTY — The Polk County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 28 approved submitting a five-year public safety tax levy to voters for the May 19 vote-by-mail election.

This levy is the second attempt the county has made at getting voter approval for more tax revenue to support its public safety departments, including the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, district attorney’s office, community corrections and the juvenile department. The first levy, for four years and 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on properties, failed by a 58 percent-to-42 percent margin in November 2013.

What is the duration and amount of the levy? How much revenue would it generate? How much would the levy cost?

Five years at 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on properties. If approved, the levy would bring in approximately $2.392 million in 2015, $2.481 million in 2016, $2.568 million in 2017, $2.652 million in 2018, and $2.731 million in 2019. For a property assessed at $150,000, that would amount to $67.50 per year.

Where would the money go?

If approved, the levy would restore 22 full-time equivalent positions in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk County District Attorney’s Office. Of those, 12 would go to the sheriff’s office patrol division and five would go to the jail. The district attorney’s office would receive three additional prosecutors and two support staff positions. Funding also would pay for two more juvenile detention beds and staff for community service crews.

Why is the levy needed?

Since April 2014, the sheriff’s office has reduced patrol hours to only 10 hours per day, meaning that more than 1,600 calls for service have gone unanswered at the time they come in. The district attorney’s office, with only four prosecutors, is the smallest among similar-sized counties in the state. It is struggling to keep up with the number of cases forwarded from local law enforcement agencies, including all Polk County city police departments, the sheriff’s office and Oregon State Police.

Where does funding for public safety in Polk County come from?

The vast majority of funding for the district attorney, sheriff’s office and juvenile department comes from the county’s general fund, which is to say property taxes. Currently, the county allocates approximately two-thirds of its $16 million general fund to those three departments.

What is the county’s permanent tax rate?

$1.71 per $1,000 of assessed value. That is the amount going to the general fund. Polk County Administrator Greg Hansen said the tax rate was set when the county was receiving healthy amounts from federal timber payments ($2.3 million in 2008, for example) and was adequate at the time. Now those payments have expired with little hope of restoration, at least not to historical levels. The county’s road bond, currently at about 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, is not part of that figure. The road bond expires in 2016.

Why can’t money be transferred from other departments, such as mental health and public works, to fund the public safety departments?

When looking at the budget, it’s easy to ask that question. The county’s behavior health (formerly mental health) department budget sits at more than $10 million and public works has $6.8 million. However, those department’s depend on dedicated funding – a.k.a. state and federal money – to provide services. No money from the county’s general fund is given to those departments. Reallocating funding to public safety from those agencies wouldn’t only shortchange services they provide, it would also be illegal.

How would the levy help the Polk County Sheriff’s Office?

It would restore 24-hour patrol coverage, revive the now-inactive Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT), provide for better courtroom security, and ease the amount of overtime being used at the Polk County Jail, sitting at $79,000 as of the end of December. Restoring 24-hour coverage would mean deputies would be available to back up city police and local fire departments on calls at all times.

How would the levy help the Polk County District Attorney’s Office?

District Attorney Aaron Felton has said the impact would be “transformational.” The office would once again be able to put more focus on areas of prosecution it can’t now. That would include assigning prosecutors to certain types of cases, including juvenile, drug offenses, elder abuse and financial crime.

How would the levy help community corrections and the juvenile departments?

The levy would pay for two more juvenile detention beds, bringing the total to six. Currently, the county often has to rent additional space for juvenile detainees, especially those facing Measure 11 charges, which include serious crimes committed against another person, such as murder, assault, rape and kidnapping. Resources also would be available to provide part-time managers for more weekend community service crews.

What happens if the levy fails again?

“My hope is we don’t have further reductions,” Hansen said of the 2015-16 budget. It’s too early to have a good idea of the revenue picture, though all indications show tax revenue will be up slightly. Other sources of revenue – such as the money the state provide community corrections to supervise offenders – is up in the air until the legislature approves the 2015-17 budget. Hansen said it could be lower because funding is based on the number of arrests, and with reduced patrol hours, arrests have gone down. What is known on the expenditure side is a $350,000 increase in PERS costs and an expected increase in employee insurance costs.

Why can’t money be transferred from other departments, such as mental health and public works, to fund the public safety departments?

When looking at the budget, it’s easy to ask that question. The county’s behavior health (formerly mental health) department budget sits at more than $10 million and public works has $6.8 million. However, those departments depend on dedicated funding — a.k.a. state and federal money — to provide services. No money from the county’s general fund is given to those departments. Reallocating funding to public safety from those agencies wouldn’t only shortchange services they provide, it would also be illegal.

How would the levy specifically help the Polk County Sheriff’s Office?

It would restore 24-hour patrol coverage, revive the now-inactive Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT), provide for better courtroom security, and ease the amount of overtime being used at the Polk County Jail, sitting at $79,000 as of the end of December. Restoring 24-hour coverage would mean deputies would be available to back up city police and local fire departments on calls at all times.

How would the levy specifically help the Polk County District Attorney’s Office?

District Attorney Aaron Felton has said the impact would be “transformational.” The office would once again be able to put more focus on areas of prosecution it can’t now. That would include assigning prosecutors to certain types of cases, including juvenile, drug offenses, elder abuse and financial crime.

How would the levy specifically help community corrections and the juvenile departments?

The levy would pay for two more juvenile detention beds, bringing the total to six. Currently, the county often has to rent additional space for juvenile detainees, especially those facing Measure 11 charges, which include serious crimes committed against another person, such as murder, assault, rape and kidnapping. Rental rates cost $162 per day. Resources also would be available to provide part-time managers for more weekend community service crews.

What happens if the levy fails again?

“My hope is we don’t have further reductions,” Hansen said of the 2015-16 budget. It’s too early in budget planning to have a good idea of the revenue picture, though all indications show tax revenue will be up slightly, Hansen said. Other sources of revenue — such as the money the state provides community corrections to supervise offenders — is up in the air until the legislature approves the 2015-17 budget. Hansen said it could be lower because funding is based on the number of arrests, and with reduced patrol hours, arrests in Polk County have gone down. What is known on the expenditure side is a $350,000 increase in PERS costs and an expected increase in employee insurance costs.

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