Sheriff Pat Garrett says voter approval of Measure 34-272 would extend city-level police service to the more than 200,000 people who live outside the cities of Washington County.
The measure on the May 16 ballot would extend the current tax levy of 68 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value for five years, starting in mid-2018. Ballots go in the mail starting April 26.
The Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District covers numerous unincorporated communities north of Beaverton, between Beaverton and Hillsboro, and outside Tigard and King City. Its estimated population is 208,000, about a third of the county's population.
"I think it's extremely important that this levy be continued so that urban services to these communities can continue," Garrett said Monday at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum.
The district was created in 1987, when county commissioners sought to provide city-level police service — one uniformed officer per 1,000 population — for the county's extensive unincorporated urban communities. The average for such areas is about one-half of an officer per 1,000; the ratio under the current levy is 1.08 per 1,000.
The levy supports 66 of 127 deputies assigned to the district, and 27 other employees. It also helps pay for investigations, training and crisis intervention.
The renewed levy would cost $191.92 for the owner of a home assessed at the countywide average of $282,200 in 2018-19. That would be up $7.40 from the current levy's final year, which starts July 1.
Voters have supported the district since 1988, the first year it was funded. In 1997, after state legislation assigned the district a permanent tax rate of 64 cents, county commissioners proposed a series of local-option tax levies to raise more money.
Voters approved the local-option levy by a 51 percent majority in 2012, when it was raised to its current rate of 68 cents. In a survey conducted late last year, 76 percent of the 400 residents questioned would support renewal; 63 percent of them strongly.
"But we cannot take that for granted," Garrett said. "We have to continue doing good work. We have to remind people where they live and who provides them good police service."
As an elected official, Garrett can take stands on ballot measures. State law bars public employees from using public resources to promote or oppose measures, although they can provide information about them.
The measure has drawn no organized opposition. Among its endorsers, in addition to Garrett, are all five county commissioners, District Attorney Bob Hermann, and the Washington County Police Officers Association.
Among affected communities are Aloha, Bethany, Bonny Slope, Bull Mountain, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill, Claremont, Garden Home, Metzger, Raleigh Hills and Rock Creek. Voters within cities do not vote on it.
The levy banks on continued growth in taxable property values to pay for the gradual addition of deputies to keep up with an expanding population.
The levy is separate from a countywide levy, renewed by voters in November 2015 and due to expire in mid-2021, that supports the sheriff, district attorney, juvenile and community corrections programs.
Garrett said his office is poised to return about $2.5 million unspent — 6 percent — to the county general fund at the end of the budget year June 30.
"We watch our bottom line," he said to audience applause.
With a staff of 570, the Washington County sheriff leads one of the largest police agencies in the metro area — only the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County sheriff employ more people — and had 100 more people on staff in 2015 than police in Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin combined. As in most counties, the sheriff runs the jail.
Garrett said his aims are to make Washington County the safest large urban county in Oregon — according to Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the FBI through 2014, it's tied with Clackamas County for that spot — and to have his staff interact with its many diverse communities.
"As I read about the troubling use-of-force cases around the country, usually involving young black males, what I have come to find out ... is that the event is in response to very strained relationships between law enforcement and our communities of color," he said. "We do not want that here."