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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Southern Oregon’s Silver Linings Playbook

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Don't Shoot the MessengerHope, to borrow a word from a previous election, has not been in grand supply after this recent election. Yes, at the presidential level, but also at the regional level in southern Oregon. Perhaps foremost the most discouraging and daunting results were the solid thumping taken by a proposed property tax in Josephine County.  

Josephine County has been in a state of dwindling funds, and has reined in public safety measures across the board, including slashing hours of sheriff patrols to half-time and reducing jail beds to a number so low that all but the worst offenders are simply caught-and-released, a practice that is little more discouraging to stopping crime than sending someone to the principal’s office. Correspondingly, crime is skyrocketing in Josephine County with one indicator crime, car theft, now the worst in the state.

And, what is bad is about to get worse there. Federal funds, which have provided some cushion are about to dry up. Yes, Josephine County desperately needs funding and, yes, Josephine County has the lowest property taxes in the state, miserly nickels and dimes assessed on each $1000 of value.   

Even so, voters absurdly voted down a slight bump in property taxes to fund public safety—the fifth such proposed levy in the past several years, and this one was soundly denounced 60 to 39 percent of voters saying no.

In an interview earlier this year with the county commissioners, they explained that it was difficult to pinpoint what “adequate” funding for public safety is. In 2010, the county was spending $17 million for public safety, and even with those funds could not provide 24 hour patrols and capped the jail population at 160. During this current fiscal year, those funds will be $12 million—and, with federal dollars going away and without the bump in property taxes, that amount will plummet to $6 million, about one-third of its 2010 level. That is nowhere near enough.

What small sliver of silver lining in the election results, though, is that two new commissioners were elected. There was nothing wrong with the previous commissioners, except that two out of the three, like captains leaving a sinking vessel, bowed out from this election—and with either nobility or stupidity, two city councilmembers from Grants Pass stepped into the election, and won those seats.

Regardless what expertise and financial management skills these two new commissioners bring, it will be like fighting a fire-breathing dragon with their hands tied behind their backs. We wish them luck, but more so wish that residents in Josephine County had stepped up to provide their elected officials some resources to go into battle.

An additional ray of hope is that southern Oregon has a shining constellation of quality nonprofit organizations—and, on Tuesday, November 29, we are pleased to host the inaugural Give-and-Drink event. This evening event is an opportunity to meet and mingle with a dozen regional nonprofits—and to taste local beers, wines and spirits. The event is part of a national event, Giving Tuesday, that has emerged over the past few years—and the timing could not be better. As the public sector weakens, it will be imperative for the nonprofits to provide services that the federal government, state and county no longer can.

What has been most encouraging about planning this Give-and-Drink event is the generosity and enthusiasm I have seen. When we began to plan the event, two entities immediately stepped in to sponsor it—U.S. Cellular and Oregonians Give—and then each brewery we asked to donate beer, Wild River and Standing Stone, did so without a blink of the eye. And businesses like Immortal Spirits stepped in to sponsor a local environmental organization, KS Wild, to be part of the event.

Please come by to the Holly Theatre in Medford on Tuesday, November 29, from 5 – 8 pm. Generosity is, if nothing else, can be contagious.

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