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OSP rescued from cuts -- for now

The layoff of 130 Oregon State Patrol officers has been rescinded — at least temporarily.

On Wednesday, the fifth special session of the Legislature ended with a budget package that could forestall the $8.8 million in cuts to the OSP budget proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

“The restoration of the OSP jobs is something we all (legislators) worked together on and I’m grateful we were able to save them,” said Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett.

However, if the $301 million three-year income tax increase proposed by the elected body is denied by voters at a special election on Jan. 13, then the state’s leading law enforcement agency could find itself facing the same staffing cuts.

“We’re very relieved right now because these layoffs would have just devastated our operations here,” said Lieutenant Michael Davison, commander of The Dalles field office that serves Wasco, Hood River and Sherman counties.

The OSP agency in the Gorge stood to lose half of its 16 troopers under Kitzhaber’s plan to close a $482 million budget gap. Davidson said the proposal was particularly onerous since it followed a $10 million reduction already absorbed by the OSP this year.

The statewide layoffs were slated to take place on Oct. 1 and Davidson had warned Hood River law enforcement agencies that patrols along Interstate 84 and other area state highways would be reduced and there would be longer response times to calls for help.

Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler and Police Chief Tony Dirks expressed concerns about meeting the safety needs of the community without OSP backup.

Davidson said the current reprieve is greatly appreciated but the future could see the same grim scenario unfolding.

“This is kind of a wait and see situation and a lot is going to be riding on the voters,” he said.

Smith said if the tax increase is denied, the legislature will seek to stop cuts to OSP in the regular budget setting session which begins on the same day.

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