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Voters in the Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District, which covers unincorporated urban areas, will decide in May.

COURTESY MAP: WASHINGTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - This map shows the service area of the Enhanced Sheriff Patrol District, which is funded by a levy before voters on May 17.Since 1987, to pay for extra policing services in what it calls the Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District, the Washington County Sheriff's Office has had an operating levy approved by voters.

This May, the Sheriff's Office is asking residents of the district — which encompasses much of the urbanized parts of Washington County that fall outside city limits — to approve an increase in the levy rate.

The levy is designed to support certain operations of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, as well as to provide adequate response to areas of the county that are urban but not covered by city police departments — areas like Bethany, Aloha and Cedar Mills, for instance.

The requested levy amount is increasing this year, to 83 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That's a 15-cent increase over the current levy amount.

The ballot breakdown for the measure uses an average home price of about $320,000, stating that it would increase by about $55 more than the current levy amount for such a property.

That levy amount funds the Sheriff's Office by $20 million to $25 million per year over the next five years, for a total of $112.7 million.

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett says that this funding is key to making sure that the communities covered by these extra services see fast police response times during an emergency.

"This levy is incredibly important for us to be able to meet emerging needs in our community," said Sheriff Garrett.

He pointed specifically to increasing crime in the county, shown by the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation data that details how violent crimes in Washington County increased 24% from 2019 to 2020, and property crimes — like theft and damage — increased by 10% in that same timeframe.

But there are also specific specialty services within the Sheriff's Office that are possible because of this funding. Garrett pointed specifically to certain training that is paid for out of this fund, like crisis intervention training for when police must respond to a subject who is experiencing a mental health issue.

Garrett also said that the funding helps bolster services that fall under larger umbrellas, like the deputies that work as part of the county's mental health response team or who provide community resources for the homeless. The added funding also helps them respond to calls of drug overdoses with naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, Garrett said.PMG FILE PHOTO: - Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett speaking at a training event in 2019.

The Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District was first established in 1987 and has funded these increased services for more than 30 years.

As for the increased dollar amount, Garrett said it's because the costs of serving a growing district have gone up. Residential construction in places like Bethany has boomed over the past decade.

Aloha would be Washington County's fourth-largest city if it were incorporated, with about 50,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's nearly the size of Tigard.

Bethany would also hold that rank if it incorporated instead of Aloha, with more than 31,000 residents as of the 2020 Census — over half again as many as the roughly 20,000 people who lived in the unincorporated community in 2010. Bethany has several thousand more residents than Tualatin (almost 28,000) or Forest Grove (just over 26,000).

The Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District also serves smaller unincorporated areas of Washington County, like Cedar Hills, Garden Home, Oak Hills, Rock Creek and West Slope, among others.

There's more population growth on the way, Garrett predicts.

"What growth there is projected to be … it's going to be infill as the population of the district continues to increase," Garrett said. "And the cost of those services simply outpaces the limitations on assessed valuation."

He also cited the need to buy equipment, and to provide competitive wages to attract new candidates to the agency, as reasons to increase the levy amount.

Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington said that part of the need for this levy is so that city voters, who pay property taxes that fund county operations just like other residents of the county, aren't being asked to foot the bill for added police services outside of their community.

"We cannot expect residents who live in the cities to subsidize the quality of life in the urban unincorporated areas," she said. "That would be wholly unfair to the residents of the cities."

Only residents within the service district will see the levy measure appear on the ballot.

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