GRANTS PASS &

Law enforcement presence will practically disappear in rural Josephine County after a levy to raise money for the sheriff's department was trounced by voters.




Opposition against Measure 17-19 dominated Tuesday night, with about 25 percent of the votes counted by 9:30 p.m. Sixty-two percent, or 8,515 voters, decided against the levy; 5,867, or about 40 percent, voted for it.




The large gap inspired Josephine County Commissioner Dave Toler, a levy supporter, to concede defeat early in the evening.




"I've never seen an election swing more than a few points," Toler said. "But my hat's off to Josephine County voters for turning their ballots in. This, I believe, is the first time there's been a 50 percent turnout for a special election in an off-year."




County Clerk Georgette Brown estimated turnout at 51 percent.




The county suffered a $12 million hit to its $20 million general fund budget after Congress did not renew a safety net for timber-dependent counties last September.




At $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the levy would have raised about $42.6 million over three years for sheriff's patrols, the district attorney's office and juvenile justice.




The sheriff's office will now cut all patrols because department positions will be whittled down from 88 to 46. Most of the sheriff's personnel will man the jail, where beds will be reduced from 140 to 30.




The sheriff's department has reported that applications for concealed handgun licenses have risen to 20 per day, up from about five per day previously.




Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday night.




Other county services such as libraries will also be hit hard, Toler said. Libraries will be closed as county money is shifted to other departments.




"It won't hit people until nearly 100 notices are sent out laying off county workers," he said.




Others, however, celebrated the levy's defeat, saying that the county will have to operate under a budget that doesn't rely so heavily on property taxes.




Tony Corriea, a former commissioner and the head of the Josephine County Concerned Citizens Committee, said county leaders will have to go back to the drawing board to appease residents.




"For we senior citizens, this looks good," he said. "The county was asking too much of elderly people who own their homes and land. They live on limited budgets and every little bit helps."




He said the commissioners should go out and speak to the public to find the best solutions for the county's problems.




"The commissioners will have to figure out plan B," he said. "They won't be able to do it tonight, but they'll make something out of this."




Toler said it was asking a lot of voters to visualize future problems that will result from the loss of sheriff's patrols and libraries.




"We asked them to pay more taxes to address a situation that's not there yet," he said. "It's tough, but we will get through this."




Reach reporter at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.