In late August 2012, a southern Oregon woman made an emergency 9-1-1 call, pleading for help as her violent ex-boyfriend pounded on the door and windows. The harrowing scene that followed could pass as a horror-film plot twist. “We don’t have anybody to send out there,” the dispatcher replied. Minutes later, the caller became a victim of assault.
First reported by NPR last May, the story epitomizes the public safety crisis facing rural residents across cash-strapped Josephine County, where unemployment is hovering near 10 percent and funding for public safety has dropped 63 percent in the last three years. The budget cuts have left the county sheriff’s department without enough deputies to respond to emergency calls around the clock. When state police are unavailable to fill the void, distressed residents must fend for themselves.
In future posts I’ll provide a more complete account of Josephine County’s budgetary tailspin, but here’s a quick rundown: in 2007, the expiration of the Secure Rural School Act brought an end to seven years of steady revenues for timber-rich counties in southern and central Oregon. Congress managed to maintain some of the subsidies through short-term, stopgap measures, but the federal money spigot quickly slowed to a trickle. In Josephine County alone, SRS revenues fell from a peak of $14 million in 2007-08 to just $5.1 million in 2012-13.
This belt-tightening has been compounded by low property tax rates across southern Oregon. At $0.59 per $1000 of assessed value, Josephine County’s rate is the lowest in the state—and less than a quarter of the state average ($2.47). Its voters also rejected ballot measures in 2007, 2012, and 2013 that would have used temporary tax levies as a means to maintain critical public safety and criminal justice services.
Despite a flurry of national media attention last summer, the county’s struggles have only continued to deepen, with a dangerous drug problem among the latest crime waves to plague the region. The purpose of this blog is to provide readers with ongoing coverage of the crisis in Josephine County and detailed analysis of its political, economic, and legal components. My upcoming posts will address the progress of Sen. Ron Wyden’s O&C Lands Act in Congress, the history of timber subsidies in Oregon counties, the shifting demographics of Josephine County’s population, and much more.
If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future stories, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.