EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- Lane County is moving forward with crafting a 55 cent levy for the May ballot after a unanimous vote from the county’s Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.
Commissioners voted Wednesday to direct county staff to write a proposal for a 55 cent property tax serial levy for the May ballot. If it passes a public vote, the proposed levy would be in effect for five years.
Once county staff drafts the levy proposal, county commissioners will still need to take an official vote to put it on the May ballot.
Under the draft proposal, 50 cents of the levy would go toward the operation of the Lane County Jail. The remaining five cents would go toward Lane County youth services’ juvenile detention facilities to reopen juvenile beds. Total, the county says the levy would raise more than $12 million.
The draft levy would also guarantee that the Sheriff’s Office keep at least 255 jail beds open for the duration of the levy, even if the Sheriff’s Office continues to lose funding. Commissioners agreed to add a provision to the levy ensuring that if any additional money is needed to keep the 255 beds open, the money would be automatically diverted from the general fund into the jail’s operating budget
On the juvenile side, the additional funding would allow the Serbu Youth Center to double its detention beds from eight to sixteen.
Commissioners emphasized Wednesday that the money would be strictly regulated and audited. All funds raised by the levy would be put into two specifically restricted accounts: one for Lane County Corrections and one for Youth Services. That money could only be used for each department’s respective jail and detention services.
"We definitely have heard the public's message that there's a lack of trust in government and there has been some mistakes as far back as thirty years on the Board of Commissioners relative to how they've used the people's money. And we're trying to craft this as specifically and restricted as possible,” says Commissioner Jay Bozievich.
Another provision that county staff is adding to the levy proposal would require an audit six months after the first funds come in. Audits would then come annually after the first one is complete.
“We have to re-establish that trust with the public,” said Bozievich.
If it passes in May, levy funding is estimated to start rolling in to Lane County by November 2014. A property owner with a home valued at $150,000 would pay around $82 under the proposed levy.
With these results, Sheriff Tom Turner told NewsSource 16 on Wednesday that he is feeling some relief.
"I am tremendously encouraged. A unanimous vote to move forward [is] exactly what our county needs,” said Sheriff Tom Turner.
Sheriff Turner says 255 jail beds would guarantee that the Lane County Jail could hold all of its Measure 11 offenders in custody. It would also get the jail close to holding all statutory violent offenders. Turner says a levy is not a silver bullet in resolving all of Lane County’s public safety issues, but it is a good start.
"It is a process and the process can be arduous, but it looks like its moving forward as rapidly as it can and it looks like we can get to that decision that we get to a May ballot and that's my hope,” said Sheriff Turner. “It is very temporary. It is a difficult fix, but it is a step and it's a first step.”
The levy will be drafted in the next week. Commissioners will review the draft proposal in its entirety and hold another public forum on it next Tuesday, February 5 at 5:30 PM. in Harris Hall of the Lane County Public Service Building.
To get the levy on the May ballot, commissioners will have to take action on the item before the March 1 ballot filing deadline.