Unable to agree upon a 5-cent difference in rate, the Hood River County Board of Commissioners will be presented with two different first-drafts of a levy proposal at its next regular meeting.
The levy funds would all be dedicated to the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, which is currently funded by the county’s General Fund. If the measure passes, the county would be able to pull funding from the sheriff’s office and reallocate it within the rest of the General Fund in order to solve the fund’s current $1.5 million deficit and maintain the current level of service.
A recent county survey identified that county residents have the most interest in bringing back 24/7 patrol coverage, which the sheriff’s office hasn’t had since July 2019, when patrol was cut back to 20-hours per day. Patrol has since been reduced to 12-hours per day, and the commissioners said that they intended to craft a proposal that ensures the return of 24/7 patrol coverage.
The commissioners have held work sessions several times over the last few weeks to try and work out details of a public safety levy that they hope to put on the May 2020 ballot, and have narrowed down the rate to two options: 83 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and 78 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
While Sheriff Matt English has stated that he cannot guarantee the return of 24/7 patrol at either rate, both rates make it possible for the department to create a 24/7 patrol schedule. The 5 cent rate difference works out to approximately one added deputy position for the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, and affects the amount of shift relief English will be able to build into the department’s schedule: At 83 cents, there’s more stability in case a deputy is out of commission, and therefore less likelihood that the sheriff’s office will have to reduce patrol coverage if a deputy isn’t able to patrol. The 78 cent rate allows for less shift relief, and therefore a higher likelihood that the sheriff’s office will have to reduce patrol coverage if something unexpected happens.
“We’ve been trying to get it to a point that was lower than what we were asking for (in May) and a reasonable enough number to ensure that we have adequate coverage for the vast majority of the time,” said Commissioner Les Perkins at a Jan. 13 work session. Perkins, along with Commissioner Karen Joplin and Commission Chair Mike Oates, advocated for the 83 cent rate, while Commissioners Bob Benton and Rich McBride said could not support a rate above 78 cents.
“I know that we all know this, but if we don’t pass this, then we’re going to have to cut a million and a half out of our current budget and for me, again it comes down to what am I willing to risk in order to do that,” said McBride.
“Although I do see a certain level of risk involved in choosing a rate, I also see a significant amount of homework and work that has gone into making the amount not only make sense, but also provide direct services back to what the community has spoken to, what’s of value to them,” said Joplin.
The commission intends to officially decide a rate during its regular Jan. 21 meeting, where the commissioners will see the first drafts of the levy proposal. A public hearing on the levy will be scheduled sometime in February, so that the measure can be finalized before the ballot deadline in March.
More information on the county’s budget crisis can be found at the county’s website, www.co.hood-river.or.us.