Of the two Umatilla County Sheriff's Office levies voters will be deciding on this November, only one demonstrates enough need that might persuade the majority of voters.
Of the two levies, Measure 30-95, only applies to residents living in rural Umatilla County without their own police departments. It does not apply to areas within the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Rural residents are being asked to approve a maximum rate of 94 cents per $1,000 assessed property value for five years. The amount would allow the Sheriff's Office to hire 18 additional deputies to bring the total number of deputies and patrol sergeants up to 25 in the county, allowing the Sheriff's Office to provide 24/7 coverage.
The arguments for approving this levy should be pretty compelling to voters, especially since a Sheriff's Office not being able to provide 24/7 coverage leaves everybody involved in a pretty uncomfortable position.
Currently, based on the number of people living in rural areas without their own police departments the seven sheriff's deputies on hand to provide service equates to .34 deputies per 1,000 people. In other counties, the average is between 1.5 to 1.8 deputies per 1,000. Adding 18 additional patrol officers to bring the total number to 25 amounts to a little more than one per every 1,000 people, which obviously would be a vast improvement. Another strong argument in favor for approving this levy is the number of miles sheriff's deputies have to cover with those few numbers. If deputies have to respond to an emergency on the other end of the county, the time it takes for them to get there can be significant. Sheriff Terry Rowan has said there have been a couple instances in which civilians have had to detain a suspect until deputies arrived, and, in another situation, a law enforcement agency from another county responding to a mutual aid request for service actually arrived to a crime scene before a sheriff's deputy.
It is obvious there are some deficiencies in the current coverage provided to rural residents, and rural taxpayers definitely should be concerned. The question now is whether they find the current proposal acceptable at the rate at which it is set. Strong arguments have been made supporting the numbers.
The second levy, Measure 30-14, is a little murkier. For that levy county taxpayers, with exception of those living within the reservation, would be assessed 40 cents per $1,000 assessed property value. That money would be used toward hiring additional staff at the county jail and the support services, as well as staff to support the impending 9-1-1 consolidations. As it stands now, the jail does not have enough staff allowing for maximum capacity usage of the facility, and, in some instances, people arrested on charges deemed less serious may be released ahead of schedule. Many repeat offenders are aware of this.
It certainly makes sense to gain as much usage out of the jail as possible, especially if it reduces the number of people getting out of jail early who deserve to be there. Nor should jail staff be put in situations where their safety is compromised because they can't safely handle the number of inmates in the jail.
Some of the arguments behind the proposed levy rate and the number of staff being hired, however, are based on presumptions and have not actually been demonstrated yet, such as the idea that, with additional sheriff's deputies on the road, the number of suspects being arrested will go up and the jail should have additional staff on hand to safely handle the increased number of inmates.
While this could happen, and the logic behind the argument is reasonable, the Sheriff's Office cannot actually prove this will happen. Because an increased number of inmates in the jail cannot be demonstrated yet, using that as the argument for hiring staff in other support areas, likewise, is not terribly compelling.
The second levy may be reasonable and the need very well may wind up being there. Asking voters to approve something based on arguments not yet proven, however, is risky. It may very well be the Sheriff's Office can make a stronger case for such a levy next year.
Based on the arguments presented, we are not ready to support Measure 30-14 at this time but are in favor of Measure 30-95.