Culver school levy still squeaking by

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Jefferson County Clerk Kathy Marston checks totals on Tuesday evening, as Lorelee Dendauw, left, and Sharon Hillis, right, prepare to count some of the last ballots in the election.When Jefferson County voters filled out their ballots in the Nov. 5 election, the majority supported their local levies, easily passing a countywide jail operations levy, and a Crooked River Ranch Fire District operations levy.

But voters in the Culver School District will have to wait until at least next week to be sure whether or not their school bond levy passes.

With a total of 1,173 votes counted, the levy seems to be passing — but just barely. A total of 588 favored the levy, and 585 voted against it.

The request for an $8.8 million bond levy to make critical repairs and renovations in Culver schools was the third in the past two years. The first, in November 2011, was for $14.75 million, but was defeated by 381 votes — more than 2-1. In May, the district tried for a $9.75 million bond levy. Voters turned down that request, too, but by only 60 votes.

This time, the bond levy is passing by three votes, but one ballot dropped off in Deschutes County remains to be counted, and another three — two with questionable signatures and one that was unsigned — could still be counted. (See story on this page.)

"It's just unnerving," said Culver Superintendent Stefanie Garber. "We had built up so much anxiety about the Election Day, and to have it extend two weeks beyond that makes it that much worse."

The district listened to voters' concerns and reduced the levy, said Garber, who is hopeful that their efforts pay off.

"I'm the eternal Pollyanna optimist," she said. "I don't understand how people can not vote for kids."

If the 15-year levy passes, it will amount to about $2.59 per $1,000 of assessed property tax value — substantially less than district patrons were paying through June 2010, when they paid off an earlier construction levy that cost about $4.45 per $1,000.

Jail levy passes

With 4,778 ballots counted — a voter turnout of 48.5 percent — the Jefferson County jail levy handily passed by a vote of 2,697 yes (56.7 percent) to 2,059 no (43.3 percent).

Sheriff Jim Adkins had requested an increased operations levy of $1.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The five-year levy will allow the 160-bed jail to continue to operate without making further cuts to personnel or services.

"I'm very excited that the people decided to vote for the jail and keep it operational and keep our criminals accountable," he said.

Adkins pointed out that even with the passage of the increased levy, taxpayers will see a reduction in the overall amount they're paying for the jail, since the jail construction bond of 77 cents per $1,000 will be paid off this fiscal year.

"It's actually a decrease in the amount of money that's coming out of their pockets and going to the county to support the sheriff," he said.

The levy will allow the jail to maintain its services when Deschutes County finishes its new jail space and stops renting beds from Jefferson County sometime in the next 14 months, Adkins pointed out. Deschutes County currently rents 10 beds at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility, and Crook County rents 16, both at a cost of $62.98 per bed, per day.

In the coming months, he has no plans to give raises or hire more personnel, but rather intends to sock away as much as possible to rebuild the depleted carryover fund, since Crook County is also looking at ways to house all its own inmates.

"The combination of the levy and the Crook County contract will keep the jail operational at its current staffing level," said Adkins, who is pursing other rental contracts. "When Crook County goes away, we'll probably have to reduce our staff."

CRR Fire District

At Crooked River Ranch, voters overwhelmingly showed their support for the Rural Fire Protection District's request for a five-year renewal of the capital and operations levy of 69 cents per $1,000 assessed property value.

A total of 1,052 voted yes on the levy (77.6 percent), compared with 304 (22.4 percent) who opposed the levy, which has remained the same since 2008.

The renewal of the levy will allow the district "to continue the excellent service we give the public," said Fire Chief Tim McLaren.

The district has five full-time personnel, including three paramedics who work 24-hour shifts, the chief, and a captain, who is also a paramedic, but works Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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