EUGENE, Ore. — Lane County voters will decide whether to give more money to the struggling Lane County Sheriff’s Office.
The vote wasn’t unanimous, but Tuesday county commissioners approved a property tax levy for the May ballot.
Lane County public safety levies haven’t had the best track record. Fourteen failed since 1974. Nine of those were back-to-back. But after months of research and public input, the board and the levy’s supporters think this could be the one that finally passes.
With a vote of four to one, commissioners sent the public safety property tax levy to the May ballot. If approved by voters, the levy would mean a tax of 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Lane County Sheriff Tom Turner says this will allow the county to reopen 120 jail beds, totaling 255 available beds. It would also double the number of beds for underage offenders in the Lane County Juvenile Justice Center from 16 to 32. Commissioner Pete Sorenson cast the no vote.
“To spend the $79 million on jail only or detention only, 100 percent of it, it doesn’t meet my expectation of balancing the important needs of prevention, mental health, drug treatment,” Sorenson said.
His fellow board members didn’t agree with that assessment. And while the levy’s supporters admitted this wasn’t the answer to the long-term funding issues, they say it’s a step in the right direction.
“The jail system just happens to have the most egregious issue we have in front of us right now. It doesn’t matter what kind of prevention system we have going on if stabbers and robbers are being let out into the street,” said Patt Farr, Lane County Commissioner.
“This is a great day as far as moving forward because we’re going to begin a public trust, reinstalling the public safety. This is a great deal,” Turner said.
In the end though, it all comes down to the voters.
“They will let us know one way or another if this is the right decision,” said Sid Leiken, Lane County Commissioner.
After the meeting, we asked voters which way they would go come May. Just about everyone was supportive, but many were also skeptical this still would not be enough money, and they were concerned it wouldn’t all go where it was supposed to. But if the measure passes, an annual external audit will be done to ensure accountability.