Money measures

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Crooked River Ranch Fire and Safety is seeking a continuing operations levy of 69 cents per $1,000 to maintain service at its headquarters at the Ranch, above.In November, all Jefferson County voters will have the opportunity to vote on a new, five-year operating levy for the jail, which will replace the levy that expires in June 2014.

Culver School District voters will once again have the opportunity to vote on a reduced bond for school repairs and improvements, and Crooked River Ranch residents, the renewal of the local option levy that maintains the Ranch Rural Fire Protection District operations.

The three levies will be featured on the Nov. 5 ballot, which will be mailed out around Oct. 18, and should be in mailboxes by Oct. 21.

Jail operations levy

As Sheriff Jim Adkins goes out for a new, five-year operations levy for the Jefferson County Correctional Facility, he wants the public to know that even though he's asking for an increase, the total tax supporting the jail will go down.

"I think what they need to know is that the jail bond of 77 cents is going to be paid off completely in June, so if they support the 25 cent increase in the jail levy, they will still be paying 52 cents less than what they have in previous years," he said.

Adkins will be seeking an operations levy of $1.24 per $1,000 of assessed value — up from the 99 cents per $1,000 which has been in effect since 2006.

"This 25 cent increase is essential to keeping the jail operating at its minimum staffing," said Adkins, stressing that he will not be hiring any new employees or giving substantial raises. "We’re only going to be giving cost of living and raises due to them by union contracts."

When Adkins became sheriff in 2010, he reduced the staff by five or six positions "to get us cut back, and lean us out, so we could meet our budget."

"We have not rehired," he continued. "The only hires we’ve done is when someone leaves and we replace them."

Adkins also helped negotiate the closing of the 911 center at the jail, and the consolidation with Tri-County Communications — now the Frontier Regional 911 center in Condon. That merger saved the jail about $50,000 a year.

Lobbying for a tax increase doesn't come easy for Adkins. "It is uncomfortable for me as a sheriff to have to come for a levy increase, however, to keep our community safe and be able to lodge the number of inmates we need to lodge, we need the 25 cent increase," he said.

On Monday, the jail housed 69 inmates — 16 from a contract with Crook County, and another 10 from a contract with Deschutes County. Both counties pay $62.98 per bed, per day. However, Deschutes County is in the process of completing a facility that will allow the county to house all its own inmates, and no longer pay Jefferson County the $229,877 it has been paying since last year.

"That's a solid amount of money," said Adkins. "With contracting from Deschutes County, we have prevented using carryover to run the jail. Once they go away, I will need this 25 cent increase to maintain a balanced budget."

With the proposed operations levy and the jail's minimum staffing, he said, "I believe we can go to 105 inmates."

Culver bond levy

Culver Superintendent Stefanie Garber hopes that the third time is a charm for the Culver School District, which is asking for an $8.8 million bond levy to make critical repairs and renovations at Culver schools.

The funding would be used for classroom space at all three buildings, minor renovations to the gym and improved heating, cooling and electrical systems throughout.

In November 2011, the district sought a $14.5 million levy that would have funded a sports facility. When that failed, the district cut out the sports facility and went after a $9.75 million levy in May, but that failed by 60 votes.

This time, she trusts that voters will see the importance of the request, which would amount to $2.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value — substantially less than district property owners were paying previously.

Until June 2010, Culver district property owners were paying $4.45 per $1,000 on a 15-year bond levy that was used to build the middle school, K-2 building and ag shop.

Garber explained that two wings at the elementary school, built in the early 1960s, are irreparable.

"We can’t band-aid them anymore," she said, pointing out that the buildings have no crawl space, ancient boilers, and electrical wiring that is actually flaking.

"It's definitely a safety issue," said Garber. "The Oregon Department of Geology conducted a seismic needs assessment of the collapse potential if there were a seismic event, and the elementary wings, gymnasium and high school were all rated high for likelihood of collapse. I don’t want it to happen under our watch."

The elementary wings are constructed of cinder block, with no reinforcement.

"The fire marshal came out two years ago, and we barely passed the fire inspection," she said. "We got a temporary pass, but only if we installed a makeshift fire alarm system in those two wings."

The district installed the alarm system in December 2012, but other repairs are too expensive to be feasible.

"It’s cheaper to tear them down and build new wings than it is to try to save them due to all the new regulations," she said, mentioning the fire code and Americans with Disabilities Act.

As another example, Garber said that the windows in the wings are single-paned glass, but not regular sizes. "We can't just go buy a window."

Garber acknowledged that some Culver voters are still unhappy that a previous school board purchased 14.8 acres in 2008 for $1.8 million without going out for a vote. The annual payment on the property is $222,000, she said, but the district has been putting money aside to reduce its request.

"Perhaps it could have been done in a different way," said Garber, who wasn't superintendent at the time, but is planning to share the burden with the public. "We could come up with half the payment."

"The property is not a bad piece of property," she said, "but it was purchased with a full faith and credit obligation. It didn't go to the voters."

Garber is hopeful that the bare basics bond will appeal to voters. "Kids have gone for a couple years now without adequate heat for the winters," she said. "We need to improve the efficiency of the energy systems."

CRR fire district levy

Crooked River Ranch Fire Chief Tim McLaren is asking voters to renew the five-year CRR Fire and Rescue capital and operations levy of 69 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The levy, which has remained the same since 2008, has allowed the district to have 24-hour staffing, with five full-time employees, including McLaren, three paramedics who work 24-hour shifts, and a captain paramedic who keeps the office open from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as a faithful core of volunteers.

"I’m hoping that it succeeds," said McLaren, who feels that people in the community are generally very supportive of the department. "That’s part of what funds the service for the community."

Over the past five years, he said, "We have lowered our response time from being out of the station in seven minutes to now we’re down under NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards at 2-4 minutes, which is very crucial in lifesaving situations, and we’re responding now with full crews, instead of hoping somebody shows up."

When McLaren started at the department in February 2007, it was a very different situation. "My first call here, I sat on the tarmac for seven minutes and nobody showed up," he recalled.

The operations levy allows the district to run multiple calls at a time with paramedic coverage, he noted.

"Several of us have been in the business for many years, and we have had more code saves, where people actually get to the hospital and get the care they need and are able to walk out of the hospital alive," he said. "We had one last month. Renewing that levy will allow us to continue the excellent service we give the public."

New voters have until Tuesday, Oct. 15, to register to vote in the Nov. 5 election. Those who are registered, but have changed their address, may update their registration until election day.

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