The Lane County Jail has been releasing prisoners due to lack of space — including one who walked down the street and promptly robbed a bank — and public safety has been on the Board of County Commissioners’ agendas lately, but it’s not clear if the county is any closer to a safety solution. Sid Leiken, board chair and part of the commission’s conservative majority, sent a message this week indicating the board may be backing away from a jail tax and instead blaming budget woes on a lack of logging on public lands.
Commissioner Pete Sorenson, who is not part of the majority, responded to Leiken’s release, saying, “The decision to release inmates was made by the conservative Republican majority that controls the Board of Commissioners, and determines how much to spend on public safety and on other things.”
In his release, which was also published as an editorial in The Register-Guard, Leiken wrote, “release of these inmates from the Lane County Jail is directly related to the significant reduction in federal funding and is indicative of the lack of active management of the federal forests that make up half our land base.”
The commissioners have been discussing putting a public safety tax on an upcoming ballot, a difficult topic for conservatives who have anti-tax platforms. Leiken continued, “Residents have never supported tax proposals of that size, and there is no reason to expect they will now even in spite of the dismantled state of our public safety system.” However, an opinion poll commissioned by the board this summer indicated that, if carefully presented, residents would support a public safety measure.
“I disagree with Commissioner Leiken’s statement,” Sorenson said. “The problem is that federal, state and local taxes — provided to county government from taxpayers — have been reduced over the past few years. Last year, the overall county budget was reduced from $500 million to $400 million.” He continued, “Blaming county financial problems on ‘lack of management of the federal forests’ is an effort to pass the buck.”
Sorenson said that the board “is strongly supported by big timber’s lobbyists,” and, citing global climate change, added that federal forest policies should be revised “so that we — as a nation — are investing in federal lands, so we are replanting the forests and protecting them for wilderness, clean water, wildlife habitat and environmentally compatible recreation and timber.”
Outgoing progressive commissioner Rob Handy has been calling for a stronger tax on the county’s private timberlands, which he says are undertaxed. He said, “While our soils and watersheds are being polluted by corporate timber barons, they ship our forests and jobs to Asia — and handsomely fund politicians like Commissioners Bozievich, Leiken and Stewart — and Commissioner-elect Pat Farr.” He questioned why the conservative majority won’t “advocate for the canceling of unfair tax exemptions by the state that cost Lane County upward of $25 million annually? Why won’t they admit we can fund a public safety and community health system here in Lane County by making sure those who can most afford it, will pay their fair share of taxes — or a bit more?”
Conservative West Lane Commissioner Jay Bozievich is holding town halls to discuss the public safety issue on Dec. 6 in Santa Clara, Dec. 10 in Junction City and Dec. 12 in Florence. Go to wkly.ws/1eb for times and locations.