On Thursday, November 29, 2012, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office closed another 35 jail beds resulting in the release of more than 30 inmates from the Lane County Jail. By Friday afternoon two of the released inmates were already back – one arrested for robbing a bank and one for unlawful entry and theft.
The release of these inmates from the Lane County Jail is directly related to the significant reduction in federal funding and is indicative of the lack of active management of the federal forests that make up half our land base. I fully support Sheriff Turner and his dedicated staff during this challenging time. They are sworn to protect us, but have been confined by inadequate resources.
Many voices have called for Lane County to move beyond federal timber revenue sharing, yet we cannot ignore the economic potential of the forests amongst which we live. Lane County Commissioners, even this week, continue to debate the form and function of a property tax measure dedicated to supporting the jail. But to fully rebuild a functioning public safety system (jail, patrol, prosecution, youth services, and treatment and prevention) would take more than a doubling of Lane County’s existing property tax. Residents have never supported tax proposals of that size, and there is no reason to expect they will now even in spite of the dismantled state of our public safety system. A property tax increase at this time throws cold water on our fragile recovery and, under Measure 5, the only options available to voters are temporary solutions. What’s more, those options could actually impinge on the tax revenue of our community’s fire, school, city, and other taxing districts.
Lane County’s partnership with the federal government goes all the way back to 1906, when the first national forests were created and County Commissioners throughout the West lobbied Congress to create a mechanism that would replace tax revenue lost by creating enormous amounts of publicly owned lands. Congress has all but completely walked away from this promise. I thank Congressmen DeFazio, Walden, and Schrader, and Governor Kitzhaber for forcing a dialogue to find a way to ensure both the essential ecosystem and the crucial revenue that provides for the security of Lane County families.
What we’ve seen this week – what we’ve seen as our system has eroded over the last several years – is the result of the reduction of tens of millions of real dollars. It cannot be blamed on uncontrollable cost, bad management, or waste. No single, immediate solution will fix our system. We need a long term solution to a sustainable public safety system that lays out the incremental steps to get there. We are committed to identifying such a cohesive strategy.
Sid Leiken is Chair of the Lane County Board of Commissioners