>Compression squeezes jail levy
In November, voters in the Madras Aquatic Center District will decide whether or not to approve a local option levy to provide support to the struggling district.
The MAC District, formed in 2004 to align with the boundaries of the 509-J School District, is seeking a special levy of 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to add to the existing permanent levy of 25 cents per $1,000. For the owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000, that would mean $40 per year, added to the existing $25 per year for a total of $65 per year.
Pool officials maintain that the $240,000 the levy would bring in would provide the district -- which has been forced to close one month out of the year for the last two years -- with an adequate budget.
"I think that the pool is a vital part of our community," said Sally Bird-Gauvin, chairman of the MAC District Board of Directors. "It's an important part of Madras and important to the growth of our community and our youth."
Others in Jefferson County are concerned about the potential effects of another levy in the county -- not so much because of additional cost to homeowners, but because of the loss to other services as a result of "compression."
"Compression" occurs as a result of a tax-limitation measure -- Measure 5 -- which took effect in the 1991-92 tax year. Essentially, the measure limits general governmental taxes to $10 per $1,000 of real market value of property (and school taxes to $5 per $1,000).
For example, in 2011-12, residents in the city of Madras paid county general, library, Jefferson County Fire District, Mountain View Hospital, city, and MAC levies, and a local option levy for the county jail. The total of those general governmental levies cannot exceed $10 per $1,000 of real market value on the individual account.
If the levies total more than $10 per $1,000, local option levies, such as the levy for the county jail and the proposed levy for the MAC, are compressed -- or reduced -- first.
County Assessor Jean McCloskey explained that there are currently six permanent levies, and one local option levy within the 509-J boundary.
"By adding another levy onto that, it may affect the jail levy more," she said. "The bottom line is, if you have an account that is already into compression, if you add a new levy, it compounds that compression."
Last year, the county general levy lost $30,663 to compression, and the city of Madras, $27,985, but the jail levy lost a whopping $215,468.
McCloskey pointed out that residents in other parts of the county that are not served by the MAC District are concerned that the MAC levy could affect them. "They feel if the jail levy is further compressed, that affects their services."
The loss of funds, which has amounted to over $400,000 for the past two years, has added to Sheriff Jim Adkins' budget concerns.
"The jail's going to be hit hard this year, even without the pool levy," said Adkins. "We are maintaining a minimum of staff right now; if we get compressed much further, I would have to consider capping the number of inmates that I house and laying off deputies in the jail to match that."
The jail has been saved by an infusion of money from neighboring counties for bed rentals at the 160-bed facility.
"When we maintained our 99 cents (per $1,000 local option levy), we had already built into our budget the amount of money that was coming from Crook County," he said, noting that Crook County has a contract for 16 beds.
"I'm very thankful for Deschutes County bed rentals," he said, citing a more recent rental agreement for 10 beds at the jail for about $18,894 per month.
Adkins said that he supports kids and activities for kids, but, "I'm elected to run the jail and provide patrol services, and I have to tell the public what I believe is the best thing for our community."
"There has to be another way to fund the pool," he said. "The voters are going to have to think about what they're voting in if it means compressing the jail even further."
Because compression affects each account differently, McCloskey said she can't project what will happen in the coming year.
However, she predicted, "The loss to the jail levy will be more this year than last year. I think it's going to be more for every other taxing district, too."
The state of Oregon recently informed McCloskey that utility values in the district are down significantly, which will mean less tax money will be collected from utilities, which are the top taxpayers in the county.
"Unfortunately, market values have come down in Jefferson County; in the city of Madras, they've been hit the hardest," said McCloskey. "It's possible that (because of compression) there will be accounts not paying anything into the jail levy at this time."