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Josephine County pink-slips 42 sheriff's employees

The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson described a department full of "long faces" the day after voters decided against funding his beleaguered police agency.

Forty-two sheriff's employees were handed pink slips last week after Measure 17-19 was soundly defeated 62 percent to 37 percent. In addition, 28 juvenile justice workers and 11 district attorney's office employees were cut loose to adjust to the county's decimated budget.

Law enforcement officials are predicting a drop in criminal prosecutions from 5,200 last year to 500, with the bulk of attention given to serious felonies.

"We've been scrambling with all kinds of meetings today and will be doing so for the next few days," Gilbertson said.

The sheriff's office cut all patrols on Sunday. Most of the remaining sheriff's personnel will man the jail, where beds will be reduced from 140 to 30.

"We are trying to figure out a way to properly release these folks we have locked up in jail," Gilbertson said. "It's going to take a lot of planning."

The sheriff said he will meet with a supervisory panel of local judges and community corrections officials to decide the safest manner in which to depopulate the jail.

Voters were unwilling to accept the $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation they would have to pay to keep the sheriff's office running as it had. The levy would have raised about $42.6 million over three years for sheriff's patrols, the district attorney's office and juvenile justice.

Gilbertson was aware of the county's funding issues during last year's election, but he was optimistic the money would come through somehow.

"I didn't think it would be this bad," he said. "Our budget will shrink to $3.7 million. It took $4.2 million to just run the jail last year."

All that's left for homeowners who live outside of Grants Pass is to police themselves. As a result, concealed handgun applications have risen to 20 per day since the budget cuts became a hot topic among voters.

Gilbertson has outlined a watch program, where neighbors would keep each other informed of suspicious activity in their area.

"It all comes down to people helping each other," he said. "We'll do what we can with what we can."

In addition, Josephine will join Jackson County in shutting down all of its library branches. In all, 95 county employees were laid off May 16.

Gilbertson echoed county commissioners when he speculated that the potential problems brought about by a weak law enforcement presence were too hypothetical to inspire voters to support the levy.

But that may very well change, Gilbertson said. "Until you've been a victim of crime, supporting law enforcement may not seem that important," he said.said. "It's more a collaboration between counties to put the state and federal government on notice. This minute, the county has law enforcement in place and can handle all but a severe emergency."

Metcalf said he had spoken to the superintendent of state police that morning.

"He told me there is no plan presently to increase state police in our county," Metcalf said. "There's a plan to hire more troopers in the future, but no plan to send any to Curry County."

Three state troopers are now assigned to Curry County.

"It will be his intent to help the sheriff in public safety," Metcalf said. "He will do all he can with the resources he has. The truth is, the resources are very limited."

Curry County will need some financial help, La Bonti said.

"The state or federal government needs to come through," she said.

Metcalf said the layoffs in his department would take at least $1.5 million to reverse.

"The problem with emergency money is, the state tends to look at it as a loan and they need to pay back," Brace said.

The layoffs need to be started soon because his deputies are in the Teamsters Union with a contract that calls for a complicated bumping system, Metcalf said. The contract has a 15-year clause that allows any sheriff's employee with 15 years seniority to bump in any section of the department, whether they are trained in that section or not.

"I have 10 employees in the union with 15 years or more," Metcalf said. "Not all would be laid off. But I have five in the criminal division. The five in the criminal division apt to be laid off have bumping rights."

 


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