Lane Commissioners vote 4-1 to put jail & juvenile detention levy on May ballot
EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- After months of studies, debate, public hearings and discussion, Lane County Commissioners finally made their move Tuesday approving a plan to put a 55 cent public safety property tax levy on the May ballot.While the vote passed, it wasn’t unanimous. Commissioner Pete Sorenson was the only board member to vote against the ballot measure. But even with that, the rest of the board says it’s still confident that it’s taking a step that’s in-line with what the public says it’s “OK” with.“This is a great move to start, this is the first step of many steps that have to be taken, the work is gonna begin now,” said Sheriff Tom Turner of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office.If voters say yes, the measure would charge homeowners 55 cents for every $1,000 of assess property value for the next five years. The county estimates it would raise more than $15 million a year, every year. 91% of the money would go to the Lane County Jail, allowing the jail to keep 255 beds open for local offenders for the entire levy. The remaining 9% of the funds would go to the Lane County juvenile detention facility, allowing youth services to double their available beds from 8 to 16."This is how you get to a point where you can sustain a safer community here in Lane County,” said Sheriff Tom Turner.The levy will be the fifteenth public safety measure Lane County voters will have faced in the last few decades. The fourteen previous levies failed. However, commissioners believe this time, the jail and juvenile services levy has a better chance of making it through a voting process because of its narrow focus."You have to look ultimately at getting a win under your belt,” said Sid Leiken, a Lane County Commissioner.The only dissenting vote, Pete Sorenson says he is against the idea of a five-year levy, saying it doesn’t address the entire public safety system."The vast majority of people that are in the Lane County Jail are there in part because they have drug and alcohol and mental health problems,” said Sorenson.“A five year measure doesn't change that at all,” said Sorenson.Many of the board members took issue with Sorenson’s comments, saying that the point of the five year levy is to “bridge” toward a longer term solution. Sorenson told NewsSource 16 he hasn’t seen progress towards a long-term plan so far. "I think the argument that would have a five year as a bridge towards the future is an important component of this, however, there was never any discussion of what that plan would be, nor has there ever been any discussion of that. I repeatedly asked "Can you tell me what is in this plan?" and first there was a reference to a 10-year plan, then upon my questions about this 10-year plan, there was ultimately no 10-year plan, so to me, before I am willing to take 79 million dollars from Lane County's taxpayers, I am going to want answers to those questions,” said Sorenson.Meanwhile, according to commissioners, Lane County staff is currently working on ideas for a long term solutions. (Read NewsSource 16’s story about the long term plan here: http://www.kmtr.com/mostpopular/story/Lane-Commissioners-continue-work-toward-long-term/zOh2PmMFoEKyKP4B43bFqQ.cspx.)"We're focusing on an immediate need,” said Leiken."Doesn't matter what kind of prevention system is going on if stabbers and robbers are being let out into the street,” said Pat Farr, a Lane County Commissioner.Ultimately, the decision will be up to the public and a May 2013 vote. Meanwhile, Sheriff Tom Turner says the levy is just one piece of the puzzle."You can't fix everything at once and it took 30 years to get here, it's going to take at least that long to get our way back,” said Sheriff Turner.The median home price in Lane County is slightly more than $154,000. If it passes, the levy would cost most Lane County homeowners an estimated $85 each year starting in 2014. The May election happens on May 21st, 2013.