Curry County commissioners recently debated the reasons voters defeated a property tax increase in the polls in May, in hopes of avoiding that fate in November.
The Oregon county faces a $3.5 million shortfall after federal timber revenue ended this year, and is operating its critical county functions with $2.1 million, down several millions from years past, when timber revenue filled county coffers.
In January, incoming commissioners tried to attack the fiscal problem, crafting a ballot question that voters rejected 56 to 44 percent in May. Now, they’re back to trying to figure out what voters will find more palatable.
“I got numerous emails after the levy failed,” Sheriff John Bishop told commissioners, during a meeting in which they hoped to figure out exactly what his department needs to maintain peace and civility in the county.
“They distrust government,” said Bishop. “People — myself included — distrust the federal government, distrust the state government, distrust the county government, city government. They see us as not getting along, not working together.”
Commissioner David Brock Smith said Commissioner Susan Brown’s vote against placing the tax levy on the May ballot was instrumental in its failure, and he pointedly asked Brown why she thought the levy failed.
She said she didn’t know, either, but reflected almost every issue heard so far.
“Was it a lack of concern about public safety?” she asked. “Is it frustration with government? Is it their personal economies? What is that threshold they’re willing to pay (for public safety)? Is it value — they don’t see the need?”
Brown has been adamant about gathering more public input and has established a citizens committee that discusses issues every month.
Brown’s sticking point is that she wants the board to create a permanent funding source immediately rather than craft a levy — a so-called “bridge” that sunsets and then must be addressed again later — that buys the commissioners yet more time, and feels public input about county needs is vital.
Sheriff Bishop said he was primarily shocked and disappointed by voter turnout in May — just under 50 percent.