KLAMATH FALLS — Voters have been asked to approve a property tax increase to keep the Klamath County jail from freeing suspects who then skip their court dates.
Like many counties in Oregon’s timber country, Klamath has struggled to keep its law enforcement system intact in the face of declining revenue from the federal government’s timber sales. It’s now facing cuts in jail capacity.
Two years ago, levy proponents say, the county closed jail cells. Nonviolent offenders were booked and released, and they repeatedly failed to show up for appearances in court.
County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to put the three-year levy on the May 15 ballot, the Herald and News reported.
The levy would raise $1.6 million a year. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay $80 a year.
The levy proposal has been in the works for months, as the county sought ways to fund law enforcement despite increasing costs, shrinking property tax revenue and the possibility of an end to a federal program designed to help ease the impact of a long-term decline in federal timber payments.
Opponents of the measure say Klamath County residents can’t afford the property tax increase, and the county would be better served cutting other services to pay for the jail.
The commissioners were set to vote last week on a smaller levy for just the jail, but two of them, Al Switzer and Cheryl Hukill, argued for additional revenue to prevent layoffs of prosecutors and corrections counselors.
That led to a no vote Tuesday from Commissioner Dennis Linthicum.
“We keep adding additional interests to the levy and I’m wondering where it will stop,” he said. “Who will stop it?”
Hukill said that law enforcement is a system, and it requires more than just a jail.
“If we don’t catch these kids when they’re young, they ride the system all the way to the jail,” she said.