Editorial: Frugality alive and well in Jefferson government

You have to hand it to the three-member Jefferson County Commission. Thanks to its frugality, it will pay off a jail bond levy a year early. At the same time, it has socked away enough cash to take advantage of a state matching program that will effectively allow the county to build a new courthouse at half price.

County Sheriff Jim Adkins announced earlier this month that he will seek a new local option levy to finance jail operations. Though he will ask voters to approve a $1.24 levy per $1,000 of taxable property value, county residents actually will pay less for the jail than they do today.

Because county commissioners have been aggressive about paying off the bond measure that financed building the new facility in the late 1990s, they will not need to collect the full 77 cents per $1,000 tax the measure allows. Instead, they expect to collect only about 40 cents per $1,000.

Jail operations, meanwhile, currently cost taxpayers 99 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, and that is not enough to keep the jail running. The county has relied heavily on renting beds to both Crook and Deschutes counties, and that income already is falling and should fall further when Deschutes County’s jail expansion is complete.

Boosting the operating levy by 25 cents still will leave voters paying less for the jail than they do today, a good thing for county taxpayers.

Meanwhile, that thrifty county commission will have put a bit more than $3 million aside for a new county courthouse, a building needed to provide the kind of security, among other things, that courthouses require these days. It’s not enough to build a courthouse, but if the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court approves, the state will match what the county puts up.

That seems likely. The current courthouse does not allow for the screening so common in similar buildings around the state, and prisoners cannot be kept separate from the public in hallways, among other flaws. In fact, a 2004 survey put the courthouse near the bottom of a state list in terms of such deficiencies.

Again, taxpayers will be the winners. And in both cases, they can thank their tight-fisted county commission for the victory.