Editorial: State takeover of troubled counties might be better option


Editor’s note: Below is an editorial from our sister paper, the Curry Coastal Pilot in Brookings. Curry County is among the most financially strapped in the state, and without state intervention or a change of heart on the part of voters, it may soon be unable to provide even basic services to county residents. The editorial, which we agree with, neatly sums up the county’s problems, and the implications of bills intended to ease those problems now before the Oregon Legislature.

We all know the equation in the county funding crisis: Take away timber revenue, subtract federal bailout funds and freeze property taxes, and the result is the collapse of public safety services.

Environmentalists won’t budge; Congress won’t honor its contracts; voters won’t approve new property taxes. This standoff has sent Josephine County over the cliff, with Curry County and two others close behind.

For years, there has been encouragement for the state to find a fix. For economic reasons, Oregon does not need a reputation for bankrupt local governments and lawless rural counties.

A new bill introduced in the Legislature makes this proposal: If public safety collapses in a county: The governor and legislative leadership could agree to take over public safety throughout the county (in cities too), fix the problem with a consolidated system, and bill residents for the cost through an income tax surcharge.

The state has the same sort of rights and responsibilities if a septic or sewage system fails. Current city officials seem to forget that Brookings openly used that state power 15 years ago as a “threat” to get a new sewage treatment system. Given the choice between local control and state control, voters approved a city property tax bond.

Yes, a state takeover would be draconian. Yes, it probably would be more expensive. Yes, it certainly treads on city government toes.

But yes: It has the potential to fix this problem in a better way than the current options.

Some benefits include stability in funding, completely integrated police and prosecution systems in the county, service levels based on what’s necessary instead of within budget, and tax responsibility based on income instead of property ownership.

At least if this bill passes, voters will know what the future brings if they vote “no” in May (on a sheriff’s office levy).