County tax levy for jail a step closer to May ballot

EUGENE, Ore. - Lane County Commissioners have taken the first step toward a putting a tax levy on the May ballot that would fund more county jail beds.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to take the ballot measure idea to first base. They directed county staff to write up a 5-year property tax levy for enough money to open 85 more jail beds.

Commission Chairman Sid Leiken said the temporary tax is not the final solution for the county's jail funding woes.

"This is to put a tourniquet on a wound that is bleeding," Leiken said.

The county is talking a tax rate of 55 cents per $1,000 assessed value. Such a measure would generate $12 million to $13 million per year.

Most of the money would go to jail beds. A small portion would go to fund more juvenile detention beds. Funds would go to dedicated accounts and would be audited.

"People trust how we spend money if we do exactly as we say we're going to spend the money," said Pat Farr, the new North Eugene district commissioner.|

Sheriff Tom Turner said this first step also sends a message to the bad guys: that more of them will spend more time in the county jail if a levy is approved.

"To be able to incarcerate the right number of offenders is incredibly important to this community, and people are at risk," he said.

The county jail has shrunk as

first federal timber dollars and then federal payments to timber counties have dwindled over the last 20 years


Without jail beds, people accused of even serious crimes against

people are often let go before they face trial or post bail.

Eugene resident Kathi Bedbury said she "absolutely" would support a levy.

But other voters told KVAL News they're not ready to pay more money.

Kelli Olson said forfeiture money and other sources should be tapped by sheriff's office. "Where does all the revenue money go? Can't they use some of that?"

Potential voter Tara Reader thinks the measure will be a hard sell. "My opinion is that it appears that Lane County-Eugene are misusing our money and not using it wisely, so to add an extra tax on top of money that is being misappropriated seems grossly irresponsible," Reader said.

The levy, if it stays at 55 cents per $1,000 for 5 years, would cost $83 dollars a year for the owner of a home assessed at $151,000, the median Lane County home value.

Assessed value and market value are different; many homes are assessed for much less than they could be bought or sold.

Count officials said the final levy plan and public hearing will be held next Tuesday, February 5, at a time to be announced later.