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.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.)
“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.”
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.