The new levy raises property taxes 30-cents per $1000 valuation for the next five years

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - Deputy Wes Woodward monitors inmates from the camera control center at the Jefferson County Jail. Voters narrowly approved a levy to maintain operation of the jail for the next five years.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved raising property taxes to operate the jail. Close to 33% of voters registered in the county cast their ballots. Almost 51% voted in favor of the levy, just over 49% voted against it. "I knew it would be close," said Jefferson County Sheriff Marc Heckathorn. "Trying to do an increase with a new sheriff during a pandemic with inflation going up."

Close it was. Of the county's 15 precincts, eight supported the levy and seven did not, according to results released on election night that have yet to be made official. Warm Springs was key to the levy passing. On the reservation, the measure was supported by 73% of ballots, a 114-vote margin. No other precinct passed it by more than 59%, and the 114-vote margin was more than the 96 votes that the levy passed with.

Crooked River Ranch voters rejected the levy by a 112-vote margin. Culver precinct went against the levy by a 27-vote margin and the Round Butte precinct by 17 votes.

Moments after the polls closed at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, Heckathorn posted a thank-you to the agency's followers on Facebook. "All of the men and women at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office want me to express our appreciation and say thank you to all of our citizens for supporting our jail's five-year operating levy," he posted.

The measure raises taxes by 30 cents to $1.69 per $1,000 valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home who now pays $347 a year will pay $422 a year under the new levy.

The levy voters passed in this election will last for five years. The Sheriff's Office has taken a levy to the public eight times since 2000, passing six out of eight times, often in close contests. This, however, was the tightest margin. As of Monday, Nov. 8, yes votes outnumbered no votes by 96. County clerk Kate Zemke has 20 days to finalize election results. The measure also asked for the largest increase of any jail levies voters passed.

"I sincerely hope that over the next five years we work out a permanent solution," Heckathorn told the Pioneer.

He posted the same sentiment on Facebook.

"Public safety is put at risk each time the levy comes up for a vote and I sincerely hope we can create a strategic plan to pass a permanent measure over the next five years. The threat of losing nearly 80% of the jail's operating funds every three or five years is no way to fund a critical component of public safety."

Heckathorn says the sheriffs who preceded him in office have wanted to establish a permanent source of funding for the jail. He hopes to accomplish that during his term, that is if voters keep him in office.

Jefferson County Commissioners appointed Heckathorn to complete the term of Sheriff Jim Adkins, who retired at the end of June. Heckathorn has filed to run for election to the office in May's primary.

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