Clackamas County voters approved the sheriff's levy once again, according to unofficial election results.
As of Monday, May 24, there were 41,150 yes votes and 32,271 no votes.
Voters first passed the Clackamas Sheriff's Levy in 2006 and have approved it every five years since.
This year though, for the first time, new Clackamas County Sheriff Angela Brandenburg raised the taxation rate on the levy by 12 cents up to 36.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That amounts to a cost of approximately $8.19 per month, or $98.26 per year, on a home with an assessed value of $267,000, which is the median assessed value of a home in Clackamas County (note that assessed value is lower than market value).
According to Brandenburg, her office's cost of doing business has increased to the point that if the county maintained its current funding level and did not ask for the increase, CCSO would have lost its ability to fund approximately 12 deputy positions.
With the increase, the levy is estimated to raise $22-25 million each of its five years for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, which would maintain deputy positions and jail beds, open 26 mental health/medical jail beds, add two internal affairs investigators and implement a new body-worn camera program.
Spectrum of opinions on the measure
Prior to putting the increase on the ballot, Brandenburg opted to seek the support of the Clackamas County commissioners first. She won their approval by a 3-2 vote, with County Chair Tootie Smith, who ran for chair on a campaign of ensuring county public safety is well-funded, and Commissioner Mark Shull, who was appointed board liaison for public safety, as the two nay votes.
The board subsequently held a public hearing to allow residents to voice their support or opposition to the proposed increase. So, in February, the board heard from seven individuals who painted a broad spectrum of opinions.
Those in favor of the increase included Dan Kraus, a retired CCSO detective; John Wentworth, Clackamas County district attorney; Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women's Services; and Esther Nelson, a Molalla resident and executive director of nonprofit group Safety Compass, which advocates on behalf victims of sex trafficking.
"I know that excellence is important to Sheriff Brandenburg, and it's important to those of us who live in Clackamas County," Wentworth said. "That's why I'm asking that this board support the public safety levy, giving the voters an opportunity to show their pride in the work that we do, the services that we provide, and to provide safety to our citizens. It is a relatively inexpensive rise in price to ensure that our basic needs are met."
Those against included Milwaukie resident Elvis Clark who said that economic hardships faced by many county residents make this a difficult time to ask for a tax increase — and Boring resident Cassie Wilson who feels that the social justice movements spurred on last summer following the death of George Floyd indicate that the public is more interested in dismantling systems that uphold white supremacy such as law enforcement, and should therefore be looking at disinvestment of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and others.
The board asked Brandenburg to respond to the idea of disinvestment, to which she replied there would always be a need for law enforcement, and therefore this is the time to "lean in" to funding for law enforcement to ensure the men and women of the sheriff's office have the appropriate training to respond better to certain situations.
Michele Veenker, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' Clackamas County Chapter, spoke to the board as a county resident, saying she supported the idea of increasing bed capacity for mental illness, but questioned whether the sheriff's office is the best agency to administer such services. She also suggested that diversion programs could be a better use of county tax dollars to keep the mentally ill out of jails to begin with.
"The proposed mental health beds, while not an answer to our problems, will at least be a step in the right direction," Veenker said. "That being said, you cannot divert your eye from the question of: 'Why is our jail taking the place of resources outside that system that could prevent our loved ones from being arrested in the first place?'"
Shull told his board colleagues that in speaking with constituents over the past few weeks, residents seemed supportive of continuing the levy at its current rate. He did not see support for an increase at the time.
"The comments I got almost universally was, 'Mark, after the last 12 months, isn't this the time to give us a break?'" Shull said. "The sentiment in the county is that this is a tax increase, and I got a lot of resentment from people on it."
Commissioner Martha Schrader noted that while Clackamas County residents often express their frustration and opposition toward being saddled with regional taxation efforts where they see no benefit, this levy isn't an example. She guessed that with the proper information, folks would support the increase.
Schrader was right, and now the sheriff's office will move forward with increased funding.
This story has been updated with the latest results.
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