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April 6: Lane County Public Safety Levy

Disclaimer: This article reflects only the views of the author. It does not reflect the views of either of the participants in the forum or of the Springfield City Club.

On April 6, Sheriff Cliff Harrold, and Mr. Jacob Trewe, of Healing not Handcuffs, discussed renewal of the Lane County Public Safety Levy, a measure that will appear on the May 16 ballot. Sheriff Harrold urged support of the levy renewal and Mr. Trewe urged that renewal be rejected. The levy renewal will be at the same rate as is currently imposed, meaning that there will be no increase in taxes on any property as a result of approval.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the discussion was how much Sheriff Harrold and Mr. Trewe agreed on the ultimate solution to dealing with one of the major public safety issues facing Lane County. Each agreed that incarceration was not the preferred approach, but rather solutions which created motivations and opportunities to avoid engaging in criminal behavior instead of imprisoning those who commit those crimes. Each suggested restorative justice approaches, improved mental health support, addressing the issue of chronic homelessness, providing ways for individuals to avoid getting caught in the cycle of addiction, and the like.

View the full program either on the City Club Facebook page or by downloading the Zoom recording (Caution, the Zoom recording is almost 900 MB of data.) 

Sheriff Harrold saw the levy renewal as important because without the levy, he believes he would be forced to eliminate the limited amount of those services he can now provide because they do not fall within the narrow ambit of his statutory duty to maintain and operate a jail and arrest alleged offenders. He said he would be obliged to repurpose the general fund money he receives to fund those programs to fulfill the essential statutory duties.

Mr. Trewe suggested that if the levy were to be rejected, the Sheriff’s office could still maintain a limited scale of the Department’s statutory duties and still offer programs which are now funded out of the county general fund.

Both agreed that ultimately the need is to have a conversation with the community and develop a revenue source that can fund a full set of alternative programs designed to avoid incarceration.

The challenge with that approach is best explained by referring to a question posed by someone who attended the forum over Zoom. This individual asked why they, as a Springfield resident, are obliged to pay a tax levied to fund the Springfield jail, as an employee working in Eugene, to pay the Eugene Public safety Tax, and at the same time pay “this third tax” to pay for the Sheriff’s functions. The individual suggested that this tax burden was too great. Focusing on the tax burden, rather than on the need to accomplish the goals of reducing criminal activity, often leads to one conclusion – opposition to any form of taxation, regardless of its purpose.

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