PENDLETON - Voters will be asked to support a local option tax in November to provide funding for the Umatilla County Sheriff's office to hire more patrol deputies and more jail guards, which would increase the inmate capacity.

The county commissioners approved the draft proposal for a five-year serial levy presented by Sheriff John Trumbo Friday.

The funds generated from the levy "are intended to add approximately 17 new positions for patrol and investigation, approximately 14 new positions for corrections and jail services to increase jail capacity and one position for an additional dispatcher," according to the levy proposal.

County officials will determine this week exactly how much tax support the measure will seek. At that point it will be possible to figure an estimated tax rate and the cost to taxpayers.

Trumbo stressed that the ballot language needs to make it clear to voters that current funding the department receives through the county's general fund will not be reduced by the levy. The proposal stipulates that "everything is subject to the county budget process, but is not intended to reduce the historical level of general fund support for the Sheriff's (office)."

The serial levy is intended to provide funding for the additional positions and raise wages in the department to make it easier to attract and keep employees.

Sheriff department wages need to be more competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the area, Trumbo said.

The levy comes after a failed attempt by the sheriff to put a special district option on the November ballot that essentially would have given the sheriff's office the same sort of funding the levy could. However, a special district would have been a permanent fixture for the county, whereas the levy must be renewed after five years.

Last month, Trumbo found out there was not enough time to get the special district proposal on the ballot because it required approval of each town as well as the county.

Trumbo said he is optimistic about the commissioners' decision to allow the levy on the ballot in November.

"We hope that (the levy) is successful because it goes toward the quality of life in Umatilla County," Trumbo said. "It'll be nice to be able to give the public the option to make a choice."

The sheriff plans to campaign for the passage of the levy before ballots are mailed to county residents in mid October.

"Our next step is to take a presentation of facts to the voters," said Scott Sager, chairman of the sheriff's committee supporting the levy proposal. Meetings will be held in each community in the county, through town hall meetings, meetings with educators, businessmen and organizations.

"We're just trying to get the information out," Sager said. "It's time for the taxpayers to exercise their rights. It's time to take our county back."

Trumbo hopes passage of the levy can help fight the war on drugs Umatilla County has been losing. By funding more deputies, Trumbo said, the county's presence will be more visible on the streets and can serve as a deterrent to crime.

Tax proposal

Sheriff John Trumbo will ask voters to increase tax support for his department in order to:

• Add approximately 17 patrol and investigation positions.

• Add approximately 14 corrections and jail staff positions so more inmates can be held at the county jail.

• Add an additional dispatcher.

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