City & Government, Opinion & Editorial

Jail Levy much-needed in Lane County

LORANE — Last week,  the Lorane Grange hosted a presentation by Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold to familiarize our community with the upcoming Lane County Jail Levy that will be on the May 16 ballot. Jim and I went to the meeting and were pleased to see a large number of residents in attendance, including Ryan Ceniga, West Lane County Commissioner.

I explained in an earlier column what the levy entails, but I feel it is vital to repeat it now that the ballots have been sent out. The proposed levy would “fund a minimum of 255 jail beds for local offenders, as well as eight detention and eight treatment beds for youth offenders, including associated treatment services. Currently, the jail has 317 beds for local offenders, 62 more than the minimum required by the levy.”

If the levy is passed, it will be a renewal—meaning the current tax rate will not increase. Residents won’t have to pay any more than they are already paying in taxes. The tax rate for this levy is $0.55 per $1,000 of assessed value. It is the same rate that was approved by the voters in 2013. At that time, funding had been cut so drastically by voters that dozens of dangerous convicted criminals and those awaiting trial were being released because of a shortage of beds at the jail. This levy, which is up for renewal, is the same one that was passed in 2013, and in our opinion, it is vitally needed. We urge everyone to give the Lane County Sheriff’s Department the support that it needs to help keep crime in check for those of us in unincorporated areas of the county who do not have local police departments and depend on them. 

Jim and I have lived, worked and raised our family in the small, unincorporated community of Lorane for over 57 years. It is “home” to us in so many ways. We owned the Lorane Family Store for almost 45 years until we sold it a year ago, so I feel that I can speak of the pros and cons of living in a rural setting with the knowledge gained through our experiences. 

We are surrounded by Mother Nature and have experienced all of her moods, up close and personal, both good and bad. We’ve been able to help build “community” with our neighbors that allows us to share our common concerns and goals through the friendships we’ve made in the organizations we’ve formed. Over the years we’ve learned to work with and get to know people—our neighbors—from all walks of life. At the store, we welcomed them all—the hard-working members of our community who frequently came in with grease-smudged faces, dusty work jeans and corked boots; the farmers who came in from the hayfields with sweat and dirt-streaked faces to get a cold drink from the coolers or a quick snack. Then there were the families coming in to buy groceries with their food stamps—the same ones who struggled to pay their rent each month. And, of course, we had our resident locals who fought their battles with addiction who brought in cans and bottles to enable them to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. We also welcomed the wealthy members of our community who fit right in with those less fortunate. One local business owner, in particular, frequently came in dressed in bib overalls to look through our hardware offerings to find something for one of his do-it-yourself projects. 

Unfortunately, over the years, many of us have had to witness and/or deal with crime of all kinds—theft, assault, illegal drugs, vandalism, dangerous drivers on our roads, etc. We have set up neighborhood watch groups and kept an eye on suspicious activities and reported them to the Lane County Sheriff’s office. As one of the many unincorporated communities in Lane County, we have no local police force. In the first 30-or-so years we had the store, it was broken into several times to steal beer and wine; it was vandalized, and one time, someone rammed a large truck into the store’s front door and the ATM machine that was sitting along the front wall was hauled off. During those years, deputies from the Lane County Sheriff’s office came right out to investigate and many of the culprits were caught. That, however, is no longer true.

Funding has been cut so drastically for public safety through Lane County that currently only 3.5 deputies are available to respond to crime reports in our vast unincorporated areas, ranging from coastal communities to Oakridge. When a crime takes place, if there is not an imminent danger to human life, no deputies will arrive to investigate. The victim is required to call or go into the Sheriff’s office to file a report of their complaint. No on-scene fingerprints are taken; no interviews of witnesses can be done because of the shortage of available deputies to do these jobs.  

As a consequence, more and more residents are buying their own guns and setting up security systems, putting up locked gates on their driveways that keep out not only thieves, but neighbors, as well. We are suspicious of and report to each other unfamiliar cars in the area to beware of—many of whom are merely people pulling off the road to talk on their cell phones. 

We need solutions that will make us feel safer and allow the Lane County Sheriff’s Department to once again be proactive in helping us to prevent and solve crimes in the area. We need to make public safety a priority by voting for the levies that will allow us to live our lives with less fear in the places we have chosen to live and raise our families.

 It’s worth the additional tax dollars we must pay for such a vital service. 

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