Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering and Sheriff Terry Rowan are ramping up efforts to build support for two public safety levies that would bolster the sheriff’s office.
“The calendar is getting filled rapidly,” Rowan said.
Elfering has met with a few groups and Rowan said he has met mayors and had one-on-one conversations. But with the two local option taxes on the Nov. 7 ballot, they agreed it’s time to hit the message trail hard.
Rowan said in the weeks ahead he and Elfering will make presentations to rural Neighborhood Watch groups, city council, political groups and service organizations. They spoke Tuesday night to the Umatilla City Council, and Rowan said they aim to hold an ice cream social to get the word out and educate the public about the levies.
The first proposal is a tax at the rate 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for five years that would raise $1.6 million for the county jail, dispatch center and other services that rural and city residents use. The second levy would apply only to the county’s law enforcement district at the rate of 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for five years to raise $2.2 million for patrol deputies. The district includes all unincorporated areas of the county except areas within the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
That means Hermiston, Pendleton and other city residents in Umatilla County will not see that second levy on their ballot, and it won’t affect their tax rates, whether it passes or not.
Mayors on both sides of the county are for it, Rowan said, because it benefits city police departments.
“The one side of this is to support the jail operations, which in turn aids them to provide better service to their constituents,” Rowan said.
Pendleton Mayor Phillip Houk agreed with that assessment. Pendleton and other cities struggle because the county jail has enough staff to fill only about 160 of the 252 beds in the facility, Houk said. Funding for more staff could mean more bad guys behind bars, he said.
Rowan said the tax also would help with other services the sheriff provides for cities, including 9-1-1 dispatch and the civil division, which includes serving court papers.
The tax to provide for more deputies answers a bell rural residents have been ringing for years.
Folks in distant parts of the county have complained about lack of service and lengthy response times from the sheriff’s office. The tax would provide for five more deputies — enough to allow 24/7 coverage, Rowan said.
He has already made efforts to improve public safety in the north end of the county. Rowan said the sheriff’s office has four deputies assigned to cover the west side and four to cover the other half, including two now working out of Milton-Freewater.
Rachell Faber and Alan Parker joined the sheriff’s office this summer. Faber graduated from Oregon’s basic police class in 2012 and was an officer with Pilot Rock police. Parker is a Milton-Freewater native who was an officer with that city’s police department for eight years.
Getting someone with local knowledge was a benefit, Rowan said, and the new deputies provide faster response times in the area. They also send a message. Criminals know when and where communities are vulnerable, Rowan said, and more police presence curtails activity from taking place to begin with.
“What I see from all of this is there will probably be a significant increase in activity because I think there was a period of time where people simply decided not to make the call or report a crime,” he said. “I think now we’re seeing an uptick in people calling in when before they didn’t.”
The sheriff also said he wants people to make those calls and give information because that also leads to solving crimes.