GRANTS PASS — If Oregon’s rural Josephine County decides against a property tax hike this month, Sheriff Gil Gilbertson told voters he will be the only lawman left who can be called around the clock because of cuts back to staffing levels not seen here since the days of the Wild West.
“Ultimately, we’ll end up closing our doors,” Gilbertson told about 50 residents during a gathering Wednesday at the county fairgrounds.
And for those wondering when and where they could shoot someone to defend their homes and families if the levy fails, Undersheriff Don Fasching had some advice: Don’t pull your gun unless you can prove you faced a real threat of death or serious injury, or you could be the one going to jail.
Across rural timber country in Oregon, counties are facing tough budget cuts since the expiration last fall of federal subsidies that for a dozen years paid a large chunk of those counties’ budgets. The subsidies provided a cushion for counties hurt by declining timber revenues on federal land.
Relied on subsidies
Josephine County, with the lowest property taxes in Oregon and a long history of relying on federal timber revenues instead of taxes, is among the counties hardest hit by the disappearance of the federal subsidies.
It is also the only county in Oregon that is asking voters to increase taxes to make up the difference, a proposal that is up for a vote on May 15.
Questions about when people can use deadly force outnumbered questions about the sheriff’s budget, but Gilbertson made it clear if the levy fails, there won’t be much left: no more detectives, K-9 officers, courtroom security or records clerks, one dispatcher, three contract deputies paid by outside sources and just enough deputies to keep 30 people in the jail. Most of the juvenile department would go away, and the district attorney’s office will be reduced to five prosecutors from nine.
“I think you can rest assured that crime will increase,” he said. “What types of crime is to be determined.”
Rosie Burroughs, 57, of Grants Pass, said she did not expect a huge jump in crime, but would vote for the levy.
Still, her husband has bought a gun and at that moment was practicing on the firing range.
“It makes my husband feel safer,” she said.