County residents will soon be asked to decide which public safety services they value most, through a survey that, the county commissioners hope, will convey the county’s financial reality without sounding like a threat to cut services.
“Not that it (the survey) sounds threatening, but I’m just very sensitive to people saying, ‘Oh they’re threatening us that they’re going to do away with this or that,’” said Paige Rouse of PageWorks Design, a marketing firm contracted to help with the survey, at a Nov. 12 commission meeting.
The survey, expected to be released on the Hood River County website at the end of next week, will include brief descriptions of the 12 primary services provided by the Hood Ricer County Sheriff’s Office (see sidebar for details) and a point-scale for participants to convey how important the service is to them, as well as a request to rank their top-three services from the list.
The survey results will be used to help guide county staff and commissioners as they craft a public safety levy.
While still in progress, the county intends for all of the levy funds to go towards the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, which is currently funded through the county’s General Fund. If it passes, the county would be able to pull some funding from Sheriff’s Office and reallocate it within the rest of the General Fund.
“The funds … that are obtained by the levy, it’s pretty obvious where those go, they go to maintaining existing services as we provide today. It’s not really difficult to explain that to the public — what are you adding? We’re not adding anything. Here’s the public safety ask, those are dedicated funds that go to exactly where we’re asking, and … the rest of the funds go to what we’re doing right now and that’s what we need to provide: The same services we’re providing today,” said Commissioner Bob Benton at an Oct. 28 meeting.
The survey is intended to help the county decide how to allocate the levy funds within the Sheriff’s Office so that funding levels align to people’s priorities. The survey results are not intended to guide any potential service reductions — even though the Sheriff’s Office, being the largest expenditure from the county’s General Fund, could face further budget cuts if the levy does not pass. So far, patrol has been the service most impacted by the county’s budget problems, with the Sheriff’s Office dropping from 24-hour coverage to 12-hour coverage within the last six months.
Commissioner Les Perkins said at the Nov. 12 meeting that there is a “fine line” between “threatening” and conveying the harsh reality of the county’s budget situation.
“I mean the reality is that (cutting services) is what we’re going to have to do. It’s not a threat, it’s the reality,” Perkins said.