On November 5, Columbia County residents will be asked to vote in a special election. On that ballot will be Measure 5-234 which proposes a tax levy to raise funds for operation of the Columbia County Jail.
In 1998 Columbia County voters approved funding for the construction of a new jail with a 225 bed capacity. The jail had no corresponding funding for operations. The county has depended on renting beds space to the federal government which is an undependable source of revenue.
The County meanwhile has had to cut bed space they fund due to a General Fund deficit, leading to space shortages and the early release of prisoners. Right now Columbia County is only able to fund 25 beds in their own jail.
The proposed levy of $0.5797/per $1,000 of assessed value would provide funding to restore 75 beds for local use as well as funding additional staff for the jail.
Columbia County residents have been notoriously unwilling in the recent past to support funding for the Sheriff’s Department, twice rejecting levies that would have provided additional patrols on our county roads. This levy is somewhat different as it directly impacts city police as well.
In 2013 Columbia County has released over 600 criminals early as a result of not having enough bed space to house them. Criminals who have been arrested or who are sentenced to less than a year of jail time are being allowed to walk free.
If the citizens of Columbia County fail to pass this levy the Columbia County jail will close. I recently did a ride along with the Vernonia Police Department. During my evening, we arrested an individual who had to be transported to the County jail. Our trip there and back, plus the time it took to process the suspect took well over two hours. That was time that our Vernonia officer was not patrolling locally. That was time when our officer was not available to respond to an emergency in his jurisdiction. That was time that our community was left unprotected.
If the Columbia County closes our jail police officers in Columbia County will have to transport suspects to Portland, or maybe even further away, to find jail space to house them. They will be away from their towns and their citizens for even longer periods of time.
I know citizens are reluctant to tax themselves, especially when times are so tough. But Columbia County residents need to put safety first and pass this levy and fund our County Jail.