Thursday, May 17, 2012

Oregon County Decides to Go Native

Many of the rural counties in Oregon have been hurt economically by restrictions on logging timber. I haven't lived here long enough to fully understand the issues, let alone to have a dog in the fight, but any discussion of it quickly involves the spotted owl.

Since 2000 these counties have been getting payments from the federal government, on the theory that if they can't cut (or harvest, depending on your point of view) their timber, and if the land is federal and hence not taxed, the county deserves compensation. With the federal fiscal difficulties these payments have ended, or will very soon, so many of the counties are in dire straits, and with the Great Recession many of them can't find other economic opportunities (or haven't tried hard enough, depending on your point of view).

Josephine County (pop: 83,000), in southwestern Oregon, has just thrown in the towel.

Tuesday their citizens voted 2-to-1 against a levy that would have raised their lowest-in-the-state property taxes (58 cents per $1000 of assessed value) to $1.99, to make up a $12 million annual shortfall. (In Portland, mill-rates are $15-$20 per $1000.)

So yesterday county officials started cutting. The Sheriff's office staff will go from 98 to 28 employees, and the sheriff will be the only officer available around-the-clock. (This county is larger than Long Island.) 90 out of 120 inmates will be released from the county jail. 4 of 9 county prosecutors are being released. The district attorney will ignore all but serious crimes:
Most misdemeanors will not be prosecuted, which includes minor assaults, such as from domestic disputes, and minor thefts. Domestic abuse rises to a felony if it is done in front of the kids. Resisting arrest will still be prosecuted, as will some drunken driving. But reckless driving, menacing, driving while suspended, probably not. Even some felonies won’t go to court.

“The list is pretty long,” Campbell said. “I have been telling the budget committee for years now that I can’t carry out my mandate as it is. There is a segment of cases that are declared violations, which we don’t prosecute, that are prosecuted in most counties of the state. That has already been happening. This is even worse.”
Not surprisingly, the last few months have seen a spike in gun purchases in the county. At a recent county meeting there were more questions about when deadly force can be used than about the sheriff's office budget, and the office is giving people advice on when they can and can't pull a weapon on someone. (Oregon has no "Stand Your Ground" law.)

Essentially, this county has voted themselves back into the third world. (I would call it the "developing world," but it's difficult to see any development taking place somewhere that can't even enforce their laws.) You should probably stay clear, as I suppose any business will who was ever contemplating moving there. That's what they call a negative feedback loop.

It's difficult not to think this is what a certain fraction of Americans want for the entire country. Sad.


Dano said...

This started happening in WA when I lived there. It will not stop any time soon. Here, the school districts are saying 'we can't take any more development' at current funding formulae. Drastic changes are needed if change is desired. If no change is desired and third world status is sought, status quo.



Hank Roberts said...

Just wait for the real ugly ...

Scott M. said...

A major part of the problem here (and with many other rural counties in the American west), is that the major landowner in the area does not now (nor ever has), paid any property taxes.

That major landowner, of course, is the Federal Government.

This is what happens when laws are passed that give higher status to wild animals than to the tax-paying citizenry. Maybe it's time to readjust the aesthetic?

David Appell said...

We are in the sixth era of mass extinction -- the first such event ever caused by man. It looks to me like the "aesthetic" has been adjusted -- very heavily adjusted -- for a long time. How much more do humans want?

Dano said...

This is what happens when laws are passed that give higher status to wild animals than to the tax-paying citizenry. Maybe it's time to readjust the aesthetic?

No animals, no citizenry.

Why? No animals, no ecosystems, no humans. Not hard to grasp. Not hard at all. The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.