The regional jail board has decided not to ask voters again to pass a permanent tax rate to help fund the jail. Voters narrowly defeated the issue last spring.
The Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility board agreed at its Oct. 19 meeting that the matter was off the table for now.
The tax measure, on the ballot in the four counties that own the jail – Wasco, Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam – lost by just 41 votes last May.
It passed by wide margins in Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam counties, but lost by 10 percentage points in Wasco, the largest county.
Hood River County is planning to seek its own tax levy, County Commissioner Ron Rivers said.
Rivers, a member of the jail board, said, “We will not be involved in any kind of bond discussion because we’ve got bigger fish to fry in Hood River County.”
After the meeting, he said, “That’s why we opted out of the levy because that’s a band-aid compared to what we need. We almost need a tourniquet.”
Rivers said his county spent $1.6 million in reserves to balance its current budget, something it can’t afford to do next year.
Hood River County is struggling the most to make its $1.6 million annual payment to help keep the jail running. The four counties pay $3.8 million in all – with Wasco County accounting for nearly $2 million of it – to help operate the jail. Other contracts for jail beds help make up the jail’s $6.7 million annual operating budget.
Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey, who represents the four county sheriffs on the jail board, said the sheriffs did not want to pursue a tax rate right now.
Jail board Chair Rod Runyon, a Wasco County commissioner, said if everybody was not in support of pursuing it, he did not want to pursue it.
As when the initial tax measure was proposed, Gilliam and Sherman counties would rather not go forward with it, but were willing to accept what the board as a whole decided on.
At the August jail board meeting, Gilliam County Judge Steve Shaffer said of Wasco and Hood River counties, “We want you guys to go to your taxpayers for funding.”
Gilliam and Sherman counties are in better shape financially. Also, the permanent tax rate would trigger compression there, meaning other taxing districts would lose money in order to make room for the jail tax. Non-school entities are limited to $15 per $1,000 in total taxation.
Last fall, the jail finally paid off a 20-year bond to build the jail. The bond was set at 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation across the four counties, and the proposed permanent tax rate was set at the same rate, meaning taxes would not have increased.
The 26 cents raised $1.3 million last year. The goal was to use that money to help offset payments the counties make toward jail operations and to stabilize the jail budget.
Runyon said, “Too bad. This should’ve passed the last time.”
Rivers said after the meeting, “the bond wouldn’t do a fraction of what we need to do to right the ship here in the county.” He feels a tax issue will pass in the county.”
He said, “This won’t be 26 cents because it doesn’t answer the financial question for this county at this present time or in the future.” Hood River County has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. It collects $1.42 per $1,000 assessed property valuation, well below the $3.50 in Wasco County or the roughly $8.50 in the other two regional jail counties.
It has long relied on timber receipts, which have shrunk.
Officials have said they believe a vocal local opposition to the jail’s housing of immigration detainees was a factor in the bond being defeated in Wasco County.
The jail is located in The Dalles.