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Sales tax to fund law enforcement fails in Josephine County

Erik Neumann / JPR
Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel says his department faces a $2.5 million shortfall next year.

Voters in Josephine County have voted down a 3% seasonal sales tax that would have supported their historically underfunded sheriff’s department.

Over 80% of voters said “no” to the tax.

Revenue collected on retail activities would have been divided among the Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement departments in the county.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel, who was reelected on Tuesday with over two-thirds of the vote, has said that if the new tax didn’t pass, almost all of his 18 deputies would receive pink slips next year.

The department has dealt with staffing shortages for years, the result of decreased funding from federal timber payments and low property taxes. Josephine County’s property tax rate is only 58 cents per $1,000, one of the lowest in the state, and Oregon residents also do not pay sales tax.

In 2012, Josephine County residents did not approve a $12 million levy, leading to sheriff’s deputies being laid off and jail inmates being released. A 2019 report about law enforcement in the county showed that after that vote failed, the number of concealed carry permits in the county doubled, and the drug crime rate increased to roughly three times the state’s rate.

Still, the new tax proposal faced strong opposition, from both Josephine County Republicans and Democrats. Members of the Jackson Board of County Commissioners have spoken favorably of the tax proposal, especially Dan DeYoung. Some Grants Pass City Councilors also supported it at a press conference in October.

Daniel has said the tax would have provided a permanent solution to longstanding funding problems, allowing him to provide 24/7 patrols in the county.

He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.