PENDLETON - Umatilla County Sheriff John Trumbo says $105 a year to almost triple the amount of law enforcement by his department would be a bargain for voters.
That's how much it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home if voters approve Measure 30-11 on Nov. 2. It would provide the sheriff's office with between $3.3 million and $3.9 million per year over the five years of the option tax. That's in addition to the tax support the department already receives from the county.
It's Trumbo's solution to what he calls a financial crisis the sheriff's office has been battling with for years that has resulted in a shortage of patrol deputies, detectives and correctional staff.
If approved, the tax rate for the option tax would be $1.05 per t$1,000 of assessed property value. That would cost an average homeowner about $9 per month, but it would almost triple the amount of law enforcement coverage in Umatilla County.
"This is probably the best value in public safety (citizens) are going to find," Trumbo said.
Trumbo stressed that funds from the option tax would go exclusively to the sheriff's office but will not reduce the amount coming to the department from the county general fund each year.
"The dollars from the local option tax are not intended to decrease what the sheriff's office has historically received from the general fund," said April Lee, vice president of The Results Group Ltd., a professional management consulting firm from Hood River that helped the sheriff research and put together the tax proposal.
Even if the option tax passes, the sheriff's office will still present its budget to the county Budget Committee to justify and explain its funding, she added.
But passage of Measure 30-11 would allow the sheriff to address long-standing staffing concerns. He intends to hire 17 criminal division employees (deputies, detectives and support staff), 14 corrections officers for the jail and one new dispatcher. At least one of the criminal division employees would serve full-time on the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotic Team, bringing USCO representation on the task force up to two.
"I think that's important because we have got to get a handle on this drug problem," Trumbo said.
The increased staffing would allow for around-the-clock patrol of the entire county. Right now, with only eight patrol deputies, the county does not patrol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. and even at other times is often unable to respond to all parts of the county. In addition, increased staffing in the jail through more corrections officers will allow the jail to operate at full capacity.
"That should allow us to max-out the jail," Trumbo said, rather than turn away inmates because of lack of space.
An additional dispatcher would bring the city-county dispatching staff up to 13.
In addition, passage of the option tax will allow the sheriff's office to increase the wages of certified (non-clerical) employees to bring their pay closer to the average of other law enforcement agencies in the area, which would make it easier to retain good employees.
"We're not asking for a dime more than anyone else is getting," Trumbo said. Lee noted that only about $175,000 of the $3.5 million would go toward bolstering salaries.
"That's a drop in the bucket compared to the overall value the taxpayers will get out of this," Lee said.
The Results Group's research found that the sheriff's office lost 47 employees during the last five years, most because of non-competitive wages.
"We lost over 30 years in experience in two weeks when two people left to better paying jobs," Trumbo noted.
During the last few months, the sheriff's office has had interest from highly-trained, well-respected drug eradication experts who want to work for the county but would have to take significant pay cuts to come here.
Retaining employees, particularly patrol deputies, Trumbo said, benefits the public. It costs close to $100,000 to recruit, hire, train and uniform a deputy for patrol.
Ballot Measure 30-11 rallies slated
Umatilla County citizens will have the opportunity to learn more about Umatilla County Sheriff's Office funding during two rallies in support of ballot measure 30-11, the five-year option tax.
The rallies, sponsored by the Citizens for Enhanced Sheriff's Office Services political action committee, are designed to give a broad spectrum of viewpoints from citizens about the need for additional funding for the sheriff's office. Topics will include the rising cost of crime on agricultural business to the need to keep the county's children safe from drugs.
Speakers ranging from law enforcement personnel to crime victims, business owners, educators and church leaders will present their viewpoints on why Umatilla County citizens should approve the measure.
Rallies are scheduled from 7-9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 4 at the Pendleton City Council Chambers, 500 S.W. Dorion Ave., and from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, at the Chamber of Commerce building in Hermiston, 415 S. Highway 395.
For more information, call committee chairman Scott Sager at 276-0372.