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Public safety takes precedence to overspending

COOS COUNTY — After two years of noticeable overspending, the state-funded agency Community Corrections is changing the way it pays for housing of probation and parole offenders at the county jail.

Historically parolees who violate the terms of their parole would be sent back to prison, but in recent years the state has been sending them to county jail when they violate. The state’s intentions are to cut down on overcrowding in state penitentiaries by sanctioning parolees out to counties.

The state pays Coos County Jail for 19 beds a day at a rate of $111 per bed, which is right around $63,000 dollars a month. This is a flat monthly rate the state pays the jail whether they use more than 19 beds or less than 19 beds.

For the past two years Coos County Jail has been unable to provide the amount of beds the state has been paying them for, because of staffing issues in the jail. Community Corrections figures it has overspent around $500,000 of state funding.

According to Coos County sheriff Craig Zanni, in 2014 the average use of parole and probation was 33.2 jail beds per day, almost double the amount of beds the state pays for.

“In 2015 the average daily use associated with Parole and Probation was 29 beds per day … This year it’s 14.2 beds per day. So, we’re under this year,” Zanni said.

Zanni’s argument is that the jail didn’t charge the state when there were more than 19 parole and probation offenders in a day.

Last week, Community Corrections met with Coos County Commissioners to address overspending on the states behalf. Coos County Commissioners offered a pay as you go solution to take effect Dec 1. Meaning that the state will pay per day for the beds it uses to house probation and parole offenders.

With the jail mere months away from solving its staffing issues, expecting to be up to 100 available jail beds by March, Zanni wonders if it’s beneficial to change the system now.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to change the billing now. We’ve been in this for two years, we’re almost at the end of it, so let’s change the billing now. Why didn’t we argue that two years ago?” Zanni said.

The new pay-as-you-go plan actually has the potential to be beneficial to the jail. On days when Community Corrections uses more than 19 beds the jail will make more than it does per day currently.

Community Corrections Director Mike Crim said that the reason the overpayment wasn’t addressed some time ago was because he didn’t believe it was in the interest of public safety. However, Crim and his department realized that part of their Intergovernmental Agreement required them to report the overspending to the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Because of the lack of operable space in the jail violent criminals will often be held instead of a probation or parole violator, because they are a bigger threat to public safety.

“Sometimes they’ll drop somebody on a sanction. They’ll get 10 days, but they might only serve five. If someone comes in for domestic assault, or a bar fight, obviously a violent crime, their sanctioned person goes out because their nonviolent… Because we consider public safety, a person who’s acted out violently has a higher need to be held than a person who was simply drinking when they weren’t supposed be,” Zanni said.

According to Zanni, another thing that confuses the situation is that when a person on probation or parole violates the terms of their release by committing a new crime that does not count as use of one of the 19 beds the state is paying for. Although committing a new crime would be an obvious violation of any probation or parole agreement, offenders are counted as being housed for the new crime, instead of for their parole violation.

When the sheriff’s office has enough jail deputies to open more beds in the jail, this problem of state overspending will more than likely fix itself.

As far as Community Corrections is concerned, they are partners with the sheriff’s office and agree that public safety is of the utmost importance. However, they are a state funded agency and are obligated to report overspending.

Although the Oregon Department of Corrections has not made any indication that they will be asking for the return of overspent funds that is the concern of Coos County Commissioners. That’s why they have voted to change to a pay-as-you-go system. Their hope being that the State sees they’re actively trying to rectify the issue.

Oregon State Police struggles to fund officers
Unfunded liabilities include state fire marshal, sex offender registration database, and the Oregon Supportive Athletic Commission

SOUTH COAST — Law enforcement agencies across the nation are struggling to hire officers.

For Oregon State Police, it’s not that they can’t find qualified workers but can’t afford it due to the state passing on what are called “unfunded liabilities.” Instead of using its budget to hire troopers, money is being reallocated to keep these new and unfunded responsibilities going and it has caused a steady decrease in trooper numbers. For example, back in the 80s, OSP had over 600 troopers.

Today it has almost 300.

“We’re holding 60 vacancies to pay the bills,” said OSP Captain Bill Fugate. “There’s different funding sources for agencies. The majority of our funds come out of general funds, the pot of money they give for funding forecasts. If we have an expensive fire season, some of that is reimbursable but some is not. In the meantime, we have to pay the bills and there’s nowhere else for us to take money.”

Some of these unfunded liabilities include the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal. Over the summer with fires across the state, specifically the Chetco Bar Fire, OSP spent over $12 million.

Bethany Baker, The World 

Oregon State Police Lt. Jeff Lewis speaks to The World at the Coos Bay Area Command in North Bend on Thursday.

Other unfunded liabilities are the Oregon Supportive Athletic Commission, which is mostly the boxing/wrestling commission, and the sex offender registration program. When the registration was created, it was allocated for three employees but now it’s staffed with over 20 “just to keep the sex offender database going.”

“Medical janitors, basic coroner’s office, is another example of an unfunded liability,” Fugate said. “We have a lot of things that have not been legislatively funded, but we’re mandated under statute to manage these things. This is over biennium after biennium that these things have been given to us and I don’t know why.”

The World reached out to the governor’s office, but by Friday afternoon, never received a reply.

Parts of Oregon considered “desolate”

Fugate described some parts of the state as “desolate” due to lack of OSP coverage.

“There’s about 7,000 miles of state highway in Oregon,” he said. “We patrol a lot of them, not all of them. We’re up double the license drivers, double the registered vehicles, we’re up in general anyways with traffic and our fatalities are up off the charts.”

There was a fatal crash on the Oregon/Nevada border and according to Fugate it took troopers two and a half hours to get there with lights and sirens. They even had to stop for fuel.

“We have to prioritize calls, so there’s just a lot of rural Oregon that is just desolate,” he said. “There’s areas in the state where you could be hours from service.”

Fugate started as a trooper in 1999 at the Roseburg office. Since then he has seen trooper numbers drop by half. In fact, at the Portland office between 1980 and 1990 there were 68 troopers. Now there are only 26.

To employ a trooper, OSP pays for weapons, cars, training, and computers. Lieutenant Jeffrey Lewis out of the Coos Bay Area Command OSP Office did commend the state legislature for increasing the one-to-one car ratio for troopers.

“One thing the legislature has done for us as an agency is the one-to-one car ratio, which mitigates problems,” Lewis said. “We have the ability to call someone out, they don’t have to go to the office to get suited up and get the car. This is fairly new within the last couple years.”

Fugate explained that though they don’t have the field force they used to, more often than not troopers are able to take patrol cars home with them, which makes response times faster in case of an emergency.

“Our cars are our mobile office,” he said. “We don’t share them, it’s their car because when we have a situation like we did at the wildlife refuge, the Portland riots, the forest fires, we’ll send 50 troopers to an emergency somewhere in the state and they can just leave where they are instead of waiting in offices for a car to become available or to rush to the office before getting on the road.”

Though this is good news for OSP and the public, it still doesn’t fix the problem. Though OSP has taken on these unfunded liabilities, Fugate called troopers “our bread and butter of the agency and we’ve been impacted over and over again.”

“Not only do we focus on transportation safety and making highways safe, which includes education, engineering and enforcement, but then you have drunk drivers and distracted drivers,” he said. “In Coos and Curry counties, we provide a lot of back up. In Josephine County, where there are a lot of budget issues when it comes to law enforcement, we offer a lot of services there. We offer bomb squads, provide police services, forensics services, criminal background checks, we’re really a broad spectrum. In truth, we should be called the Oregon Department of Public Safety, but it’s our patrol division that is what takes the hit.”

In fact, Oregon ranks number 48 in the nation for the number of troopers per 1000 citizens. Every budget season OSP has attempted to increase trooper numbers, but Fugate called the budget climate today very tight.

“The 2019 and 2021 budget is going to be challenging for us too, the revenue forecasts are not great,” he said. “The legislature is trying to work this out, but it’s challenging budget times. In order to accomplish our mission, we need more troopers.”

South Coast coverage

On the southern Oregon coast, the Coos Bay office is only down one trooper right now and has one in recruit school. Lt. Jeffrey Lewis said that each command seems to rotate being fully staffed and right now Coos Bay has been fortunate.

Bethany Baker, The World 

Oregon State Police Lt. Jeff Lewis speaks to The World at the Coos Bay Area Command in North Bend on Thursday.

Even so, between 1980 and 1990 the Coos Bay command had 26 troopers and right now there are only 13, which has become the new norm. Not only that, but like every other law enforcement agency they lose personnel to other offices.

“It’s a revolving door,” Lewis said. “Unless you’re from here, it’s not really a stopping place.”

Since Lewis came to the Coos Bay command in January, he lost two troopers to the local Fish and Wildlife Division, which is also with Oregon State Police.

“We work hand in hand with them, so those troopers are still here and with that other department, they still help us in patrol,” Lewis said.

The Coos Bay Area Command Office covers all of Western Douglas County from the Lane County line to the Curry County Line, then all the way from Curry County to California. It has a worksite office in Gold Beach with five troopers, one sergeant and a few Fish and Wildlife employees.

“When you have an office that small, you have training, vacations and sick days so there are a lot of holes in the schedule,” Lewis said.

Though the Coos Bay command is considered fully staffed, there are still holes in the schedule here too. Lewis is often thinking about how to maintain coverage if there are troopers out for training or are sick, so he is constantly calling people out.

“Normally in Gold Beach we don’t have someone on after midnight unless we call them out,” he said. “Here we don’t after 2 or 3 a.m. when we don’t usually have anyone on. That can change if we have a hole in the schedule and things are moved around.”

There have been only two instances since January where Lewis didn’t have anyone on duty after 4 p.m. Generally he offers those slots of time up as overtime to keep coverage going, but if that’s not available there is an on call system.

“It’d be great to have five more bodies working here, but we have to use what we have,” he said.

Tax payers fund 'rising tide'
Urban Renewal redirects property taxes

COOS COUNTY — Coos County’s commissioners are deciding whether or not to eliminate the Coos County Urban Renewal Agency's North Bay District.

The 9,000-acre urban renewal area was created in 1986 to assist with infrastructure needs to help spur development on the North Spit.

Earlier this year, the CCURA set out to amend its plan that will expire in 2018.

In the last nine years, the district has collected more than $2 million in property taxes, $1.1 million of which was from a special levy. In that time, the agency has helped fund two projects, according to those involved in the agency.

One project put $2,000 towards helping a Boy Scout troop cleanup and construct fencing on the North Spit overlook property earlier this year. The other URA-funded project helped realign the Trans Pacific Parkway in 2010.

After several public hearings and meetings, the urban renewal plan was amended in October to eliminate the special levy, which served as an additional tax on property owners.

Urban renewal agencies use tax increment financing to implement redevelopment projects in blighted or underdeveloped areas. In order to do this, URAs have a maximum amount of indebtedness, which determines how much redevelopment can occur. North Bay’s maximum indebtedness is $55,126,344.

Urban renewal projects are funded through bonds and bond holders receive a return on their investment through interest payments over the duration of the bonds. The payment against urban renewal’s debt comes from the “increment” or growth in assessed property value. When the urban renewal area is formed, the assessed property value with the URA is frozen. Any property taxes collected above the frozen base are considered “increment.”

The argument is that additional tax revenue generated from a URA will eventually go back to the other taxing districts when the district is dissolved, creating added money that wouldn’t be there had the district not existed.

While property taxes wouldn’t change if urban renewal areas were eliminated, the funding for other taxing districts would.

Forgone revenues

Each year the state has to backfill funds for Coos County’s school districts that are siphoned into the urban renewal area, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

The state school fund would’ve had an additional $62,902 this fiscal year if the North Bay URA wasn’t in place. By 2038, that number jumps to $3.7 million, according to the North Bay Urban Renewal Plan Amendment Report.

Elaine Howard, a consultant for both Coos County’s and Coos Bay’s URAs, said in essence, the URA is keeping the money local rather than sending it to the state school fund.

“There’s some fewer monies that they’ll (the school fund) be able to draw from, but they backfill from other sources,” Howard said.

Even if those dollars were sent to the state’s school fund, Coos County's school districts would still receive the same amount of money because it funds schools on a per student basis.

However, the other taxing districts aren’t able to backfill forgone revenue. The taxing districts include: Coos County, Coos Bay, North Bend, the library district, port districts, rural fire districts, health districts, parks and recreation districts, drainage and diking districts, water districts, road districts, sanitary districts, and the 4H/extension service district.

Coos County is currently forgoing $12,000 in property tax revenue this fiscal year that goes to North Bay’s urban renewal. By 2028, the amount of money forgone is expected to be 10 times that, according to the URA report.

When asked about the county’s current amount of forgone revenue, Coos County Commissioner John Sweet said it was a small price to pay for redevelopment. Sweet also pointed out that some of the urban renewal funds have been used as “seed money” to leverage grants.

Port of Coos Bay

The Coos County URA board serves as the governing body for the agency.

Members of the Coos County URA board include: Joe Benetti, Jennifer Groth, Howard Graham, Mike Erbele, Eric Farm, Brianna Hansen, Todd Goergen, Adam Foxworthy, Melissa Cribbins and John Sweet.

The Port of Coos Bay is contracted by Coos County to provide administrative services to the Coos County URA. The renewal agency pays the port $12,000 a year for that service.

Fred Jacquot, director of port development for the Port of Coos Bay, is the project manager for the plan amendment.

Jacquot said there have been discussions with entities that are interested in the North Spit, but want additional infrastructure.

“Again, we’re bound by confidentiality when we're approached by potential projects, but there’s been projects that have needed additional water infrastructure, projects that have needed additional power infrastructure,” Jacquot said.

He said the area is competing with ports along the West Coast and stands to benefit from providing incentives.

“If there’s an opportunity to capture development on that site by incentivizing expansion of power we want to have that tool available,” Jacquot said, “It’s about maintaining flexibility so we as a community are prepared if an opportunity presents itself.”

The big-budget items on the tier one project list reflect those infrastructure goals.

Water, natural gas and stormwater utilities have a combined $20 million in projected project costs.

The Trans Pacific Parkway has also been highlighted as a major infrastructure need for the area, because of flooding and potholes.

“The Port of Coos Bay has done a lot of strategic planning in the last couple of years and has direction to do a lot of development down in that area,” Howard said, “People are encouraged by the fact that the port is being proactive.”

In an email to The World, Howard wrote that the total amount of new development needed to meet the projections in the report is approximately $336 million over the next 20 years.

Jacquot recalled the last project that the URA helped fund was the $1.35 million realignment of the Trans Pacific Parkway in 2010.

Before that, the Coos Bay Rail Line Spur Extension was completed in 2006.

When asked by The World for a list of URA-funded projects, Jacquot said they were before his time and he didn’t have all the records together.

Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins has been on the agency’s board for the last five years and only remembers the URA helping fund the Boy Scout project.

Cribbins said it is responsible fiscal management to accrue money and to wait to do projects until the agency has an idea of what the development might be.

“I don’t think it’s responsible to just go out there and do a bunch of development and say ‘who’s interested?’” Cribbins said, “We don’t have that much money. $1.1 million sounds like a lot, but it’s not that much when you start doing infrastructure projects.”

A little over $1 million is what Cribbins said had been accrued in the URA's fund. 

In regards to the other million dollars the agency has received in the last decade, Cribbins said it was used to help repay a loan and the $12,000 a year administration fee. 

When asked by The World what the loan was for, Cribbins speculated that it was for the area's roadway.

Jacquot said the outstanding loan was used for previous project expenses "likely including the realignment," in an email to The World. 

The project manager wrote he was unable to provide a breakdown on how much the CCURA provided to the Trans Pacific Parkway realignment at this time.

Jordan Cove

Howard said if the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal is built, there probably wouldn’t need to be an urban renewal district.

Jacquot disagrees. He said that Jordan Cove isn’t going to pay for the infrastructure needs of neighboring properties.

Concerns over how the massive energy project’s taxes would be distributed in the absence of a community enhancement plan were discussed back in 2014. 

In 2013, Coos County Commissioner Bob Main said there was no longer a need for a URA, because the infrastructure needs on the North Spit had already been met. 

Main had concerns with the North Bay's plan amendment during a public hearing on Oct 30. One concern was that the administration costs for the plan appear to go up in the absence of a levy.

Jacquot didn’t have an answer as to why the cost goes up, but told Main he would find out.

Three years ago, it was speculated that 99 percent of Jordan Cove’s property taxes would end up going to the North Bay Urban Renewal District. The concern was addressed in one of the plan’s amendments.

One of the amendments in the new plan allows for under-levy triggers, which gives county commissioners the discretion to decide how much of any new developments’ taxes would go to the urban renewal district. It also includes an option to re-distribute the money garnered from the expiration of a business’s tax abatement.

SouthPort Lumber Co is receiving an enterprise zone tax abatement until 2020, exempting $800,000 of assessed value, according to the North Bay report.

Howard said the under-levy was specifically put in the amendment so people know it’s been thought about.

“If a large development happens, the Coos County Commission can make a determination to terminate the URA,” Howard said, adding that they have the ability to terminate the district at any time.

A new levy

Just as Coos County is talking about removing the special levy for the North Bay district, Coos Bay added a levy this spring.

Coos Bay created the levy to address road problems by taxing 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. For a $200,000 home that’s an extra $60 on Coos Bay resident’s property tax bills.

Coos Bay’s two urban renewal areas account for the lion’s share of urban renewal funds. Combined, they are taking in $1.9 million this fiscal year.

The Coos Bay’s Downtown URA has used its funds to restore the Egyptian Theatre, expand the Eastside Boat ramp, and do a seismic upgrade to City Hall.

According to the city’s website, it estimates that urban renewal has enhanced the city by $46 million.

One of the more recent projects was the Empire Blvd renovation, which Coos Bay’s Empire Urban Renewal district helped fund to the tune of $970,000.

Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock said that urban renewal investments help improve the overall prosperity of the area.

“The thought is that that investment over time is the same as the rising tide, it floats all ships,” Craddock said.

At their core, urban renewal areas leverage the rising tide argument to implement levies and taxes that would otherwise be going to the county, cities, libraries, parks and rural fire districts, among others.

Cribbins said she's seen other counties and cities fall victim to another cliché; ‘if you build it, they will come.’

“I’ve seen other counties and cities just build stuff in the belief that if it’s all built somebody will come and unfortunately there’s a lot of times that infrastructure just sits there and nothing comes,” Cribbins said, “It’s like the idea of the bridge to nowhere.”

The next public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 13 at the Owens Building in Coquille. Written input on the plan amendment must be sent by Dec. 1.

Bethany Baker, The World 

Marshfield's Grant Woolsey throws the ball in the first round playoff game against Estacada at Marshfield High School on Friday. Marshfield beat Estacada, 58-14, and heads to the quarterfinals.