Saturday, June 02, 2012

Update: Oregon County Goes Native

Here's an update on Oregon's Josephine County, which last month decided it wouldn't take responsibility for itself, and--instead of funding its government and public services by raising their already lowest-in-the-state property taxes--shut down much of its government and public services.

Short story: Criminals released early. Citizens are arming themselves. Residents are getting surly.

This week the County jail released 39 inmates, out of about 160 -- some of them felons. One woman waiting for someone said, “I’m excited.... It’s scary that the real scary ones are getting out.”

The county is speeding up sentencing hearings in order to get prisoners on their way to state penitentiaries.

The Sheriff "also shut down his department's major crimes and records units and cut the number of patrol deputies from about 25 to six." By the end of the month his office will have been from 91 positions to 33.5.
"Well, a lot of people are armed," [a construction designer] says. "Just about everybody in the county is armed, including myself."

At Rogue Valley Pawn & Jewelry, owner Chris Oddo says some worry Josephine County will turn into the "Wild West."

"That's why our gun sales have gone up," he says. "Every person that's come in has mentioned the jail and the need to protect themselves."

Oddo is carrying. The bulge on his right hip, under his T-shirt, is a holstered pistol.

Oddo says he supported the tax levy and displayed 10 campaign signs. All but three were stolen.

"I'm very disappointed in our community," he says. "It's a shame."
After much debate, the local Chamber of Commerce supported a "Yes" vote on the tax levy.
Chamber President Colene Martin says her phone rang all the next day as members continued the debate.

"Nobody wants to go to a town that's not safe," she says.

Martin lives outside town, and worries about the lack of sheriff's patrols.

"I want my husband to put up a driveway gate," she says.
According to an report released Wednesday by Oregon's Secretary of State, Josephine County's (local) property tax rate is $0.59 per $1000 of assessed value -- the average in Oregon is $2.81. With 62% of its area in non-taxable federal lands, they generated the least amount of local revenues at $191 per capita in 2011 (Oregon average: about $300).

Incidentally, two counties with copious wind farms and/or landfill and recycling centers, Gilliam and Sherman, generated $4,156 and $4,384 per capita (chart, page 7).

Josephine County's per capita income is just under $30,000, 10th lowest in Oregon (of 36 counties). (The highest of any Oregon county is $43,600.) (page 16)

Local revenues for county government have dropped 50% since 2004, to $14.8 M in 2011. Timber payments per capita went from $203 to $122.

The first stanza of Yeats' famous poem sums up the situation (yet again). The object of the passion changes, but the result never does.

...Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity....

from "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats


Thomas said...

Considering that USA has world record (or close to it) in imprisoning its population, perhaps letting some of them go is a good idea. Somehow many countries manage to survive with less than a tenth as many locked up.

David Appell said...

Thomas: Perhaps, but felons? One of the guilty of 4th-degree assault?

Brian said...

Seems like both sides are placing their bets. Conservatives: no big deal. Liberals: this will get bad.

Now we wait and find out who's right.

Thomas said...

David, the felon with a 4th-degree assault was released after 30 days out of a 50 day sentence. What a disaster, he is probably going to go rampant during those extra 20 days of freedom...

I'd be more worried about all those honest citizens getting themselves guns thinking they are going to get robbed, raped or killed. Accident happens.

David Appell said...

Thomas, I suspect the fact that this inmate was let out early because the county cannot afford to fully fund its law enforcement had a far greater impact on him than the 20 days he didn't serve.

That sense of lawlessness can easily create more lawlessness.

David Appell said...

Now we wait and find out who's right.

You make it sound like this is an experiment on a lab bench.

But the county is composed of real people leading real lives with real consequences. And history gives plenty of evidence of what happens when law and order breaks down.

Brian said...

David - it is an experiment, and it does have real life consequences.

My vote would've been to not run the experiment because of those consequences, but the majority in the county disagreed.

I hope they end the experiment soon.