EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) – A major announcement came Thursday from the Lane County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) and a team of local law enforcement agencies as new budget projections show even more cuts could be on the way for the county's jail and police services.
The Lane County Sheriff's Office is now projecting about $2 million in budget cuts in July 2013, the start of the 2013 - 2014 fiscal year. LCSO is also projecting an additional $7.9 million in cuts in the 2014 - 2015 fiscal year, beginning July 2014.
The Sheriff's Office says if it can't find a new revenue source by July, the $2 million cut will force it to reduce jail beds from the current 135 available beds to just 83 beds. LCSO's patrol deputies would also be reduced from fifteen to twelve as well.
"The problem that we're facing right now is that we do not see [any] help in sight,” said Sheriff Tom Turner of the Lane County Sheriff's Office.
By July 2014, without a new revenue source, LCSO says it will have to reduce the number of jail beds for local offenders to just 26 beds. It will also have to totally eliminate patrol services, civil services and all but one detective.
“We're going to have to figure out a new way to come up with a new revenue stream. And what was so compelling to me and the others sitting at this table is that this needs to be voiced to the community so that they know what the issues are,” said Sheriff Turner.
The projections come after the Sheriff's Office was recently tasked with creating a ten-year budget outlook. After looking at the projections for just two years, the Sheriff's Office chose to stop further review, seeing how the projected $10 million worth of cuts over two years would play out.
Projected cuts originate primarily from two sources: a loss of Federal funding and a projected loss of county General Fund dollars. The loss in Federal funds comes from a variety of sources including programs being phased out, grants expiring and an expected decrease in payments from the U.S. Marshals service, among other sources.
Out of Thursday's meeting came a large emphasis on the impact that the potential cuts will have on public safety across Lane County.
Alongside Sheriff Turner, District Attorney Alex Gardner and local police agency supervisors joined the conversation. Junction City Police Chief Mark Chase, Springfield Police Chief Jerry Smith and Lieutenant Rob Edwards from Oregon State Police's Springfield Command all sat with Sheriff Turner on Thursday to talk about the impact they're already seeing and what else they expect to see.
With the possibility of only 26 jail beds for local offenders in Lane County in July 2014, Gardner says it means the jail won't even have enough space to hold all of the people awaiting trial just for homicide charges. Typically, Lane County holds more than thirty people on homicide charges alone.
"What do you do with the rapists? We've got plenty of those. Or the kidnappers or the people committing sodomy?” asked Gardner.
In Springfield, even with the success of its new municipal jail, Chief Jerry Smith says it needs the county's success in order to maintain Springfield's safety.
"We're dependent on the county jail to house felons,” said Chief Smith.
The loss of jail beds is already tapping Junction City as well.
“One individual committed approximately fifty crimes over a five-month period because we took him to the county jail five times for crimes. He was immediately released; he comes back in,” said Chief Mark Chase of the Junction City Police Department.
Oregon State Police (OSP) says it's also feeling the impact of low patrol levels from the Sheriff's Office. Many times, State Police respond to calls in rural Lane County when the Sheriff's Office has no one on duty. Primarily, OSP is supposed to focus on road safety.
"When we're covering calls for the Sheriff because he doesn't have any deputies out, [that takes] us away from our primary roll,” says OSP Lieutenant Rob Edwards.
While many jurisdictions have taken their own unique steps to deal with jail funding problems, most are still fearful of the impact of losing even more jail beds. Eugene Police has tried to focus on crime prevention as a way to keep the lid on the city's high property crime rate. While some of their efforts have worked, Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns says it's important that a functional jail remains in Lane County to keep accused criminals accountable.
"If we don't have a jail and we don't have the ability to take them to trial, then all the other efforts are almost without any value,” said Kerns.
The hope now is to work for a change before Lane County's projected cuts become reality.
"We want to make sure that we have the tools . . . to make the decision that the citizens of Lane County would be willing to support,” said Commissioner Sid Leiken of the Lane County Board of Commissioners.
Lane County is now waiting for the results of another public safety survey which should be completed this month. Commissioners hope to have a good idea of whether or not they'll go for a short-term five-year public safety property tax levy by the end of the month. That could go to either a May or November ballot. A final decision on the measure could be made in February.