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Commission Majority Votes for Jail Tax

The Lane County Board of Commissioners voted on Feb. 12 to send a proposed jail tax to the voters in May. The vote was 4-1, with progressive Commissioner Pete Sorenson as the lone “no” vote and conservative Commissioners Sid Leiken, Jay Bozievich, Pat Farr and Faye Stewart voting in favor.

Sorenson says he voted against the tax “because $79 million is a lot of money, virtually all of it going to incarceration,” none to provide treatment of mental problems, treatment of alcoholism or other social services aimed at reducing crime, jail populations and the recidivism rate — the number of previously incarcerated people going back to jail. 

Bozievich expressed his displeasure with his fellow commissioner’s “no” vote by posting a video of Groucho Marx singing “I’m Against It” on Facebook. 

The proposed five-year property tax levy would ask voters to pay an additional tax of 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on a home. According to the proposed ballot language, a home in Lane County valued at $154,809 will see the annual tax payment increase by $85.

The tax would raise about $79 million and increase property taxes by 3 percent. Counties across Oregon, including Lane, which have large swathes of federal forestland, have been sustained by federal timber payments. But despite warnings that those payments are drying up, counties have been slow to find other ways to pay for needed services. 

Sorenson says he was also concerned because the amount of the tax — 55 cents per $1,000 — was higher than the amount that was acceptable to voters in a county-funded survey by Strategic Research Institute. That poll said voters would support a 50-cent tax levy by a slim margin of 50.5 percent. The tax would bring in about $13.9 million a year and allow the county to re-open 125 jail beds and double the number of beds for juvenile offenders to 32.