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SRI's Dr. G. Gary Manross spoke in Lane County, Oregon, providing survey results that indicated support for a "modest" property tax increase.  Manross' testimony at the Harris Hall hearing on public safety made front-page news in the Eugene "The Register-Guard."

REGISTER-GUARD – Despite a Lane County law enforcement system that has been ravaged by budget cuts in recent years, a Tuesday evening public hearing on a property tax levy proposal seemed to back up the results of a new survey: County residents are divided on whether a tax increase to pay for more jail beds is a good or bad idea.
 At a packed Harris Hall in the Lane County Public Service Building, some questioned whether a proposed five-year tax of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property goes far enough.
 "All I have heard today is a Band-Aid, I haven't heard any permanent solutions," said Margaret Thumel of Eugene.
 But others suggested that the county should look at different solutions, ranging from cutting back in other areas of spending to a partial or wholesale privatization of jail services.
 "Let's look at something other than taxes for a change," said Wayne Johnson of Eugene. "Forget taxing, taxing, taxing. It will never stop."
 The county Board of Commissioners, which received the public testimony, will hold another public hearing on the issue this morning, after which it could potentially make a decision on whether or not to put a proposed levy on the May ballot.
 While speakers Tuesday night were overwhelmingly united in the belief that the issue at hand is serious, some reiterated old grudges against previous boards of county commissioners who, they claimed, had spent what should have been public safety tax levy dollars in other areas.
 "The money always seemed to go somewhere else," longtime Marcola resident Mark Cosby said. "I support our sheriff, but I don't support this levy."
 A number of law enforcement officials from other jurisdictions said at the hearing that the continued reduction of available beds at the county jail will make the entire local public safety system "crumble."
 "This is not just the (Lane County) sheriff's office's problem," Springfield Police Chief Jerry Smith said. "It affects all the components of the system."
 The most recent survey of county voters indicates that a slight majority would support a "modest" tax levy along the lines of the proposal that was outlined Tuesday, said Gary Manross of Strategic Research Initiative, a Fullerton, Calif.-based public policy and marketing firm, during a presentation that preceded the public hearing.
 The survey, which cost the county $20,000, polled 600 county voters between Jan. 16 and 21 and found that 50.5 percent of them would support such a tax levy.
 Although that majority support is vulnerable to the poll's 3.5 to 4.5 percent margin of error, Manross said that, "with guarded optimism," the tax levy should be "a go."
 The proposal Manross put forward was tailored according to the survey's findings: It would be earmarked primarily for adult jail beds and provide some funding for increased capacity for youth offenders. At 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, that would provide the sheriff's office with additional funding of about $12.7 million a year, enough to restore a minimum of 85 adult beds and eight youth beds. Currently, there are 135 operational jail beds for adults and eight for youth.
 Such a levy would cost just over $75 a year for the owner of a home assessed at $151,000, the median Lane County property value, according to county staff.
 The proposal also would require an annual audit of how the sheriff's office spends the levy money, because the inclusion of that type of oversight proved to be the most persuasive argument in favor of the levy for surveyed voters, Manross said.
 However, the proposal wouldn't provide funding for additional sheriff patrol deputies or more money for the Lane County District Attorney's office, because those weren't the highest priorities among the polled voters.
 "Assuming you do a superb job of outreach (to voters) ... the electorate will support you," Manross told the county commissioners.
 The commissioners asked Manross about a variety of tweaks to the proposal and how those changes might affect support for the measure.
 Commissioner Pete Sorenson said he would like to see some levy dollars earmarked to fund drug and alcohol addiction services, should the board agree to send a measure to voters.
 "Why not use some of the science about addiction … to drive down recidivism?" he said.
 Commissioner Jay Bozievich asked whether voters might support a levy of 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, with the extra money going to the district attorney's office, if there were efforts to educate the public about the services for crime victims and investigations of sexual crimes conducted by the DA's office.
 But some members of the public urged the county commissioners not to over-complicate any proposal it puts before voters.
 "The time is not right for the type of more comprehensive (public safety) plan … that we might like to see," said Sue Boyd, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Lane County.

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