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Sheriffs office vies for majority approval for enhanced patrol

Although they're not actively campaigning for Washington County's enhanced sheriff's patrol district replacement levy, Hillary and Barack may be responsible for the measure's fate.

That's because getting the needed number of ballots necessary to pass the $47.5 million levy most likely will be boosted by residents eager to cast votes for the Democratic presidential nominee next month.

The five-year levy must not only receive the majority of 'yes' votes but also has to have a voter turnout of more than 50 percent.

That said, county officials are hoping residents will support the May 20 election to replace the current enhanced levy, which expires at the end of June.

'We hope we have a lot of goodwill banked over the last few years,' Sheriff Rob Gordon said about getting the measure passed.

Cost of the levy is 63 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, costing the owner of a $200,000 home about $126 on their property taxes. That comes out to an average of about $28 more a year than what residents pay for the levy that expires in July.

'I think it's fair to call this a replacement levy,' said Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten.

He said in the past the public has been supportive of such measures.

Those served in the enhanced districts essentially get double the police service of those who live in western Washington County. Enhanced patrol areas include Aloha, Bethany, Bull Mountain, Bonnie Slope, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill, Claremont, Cooper Mountain, Garden Home, Metzger, Oak Hills, Orenco, Reedville, Rock Creek, Somerset, Terra Linda and West Slope.

What patrols provide in the enhanced service areas are the equivalent of one deputy per 1,000 residents for those living in unincorporated communities located inside the urban growth boundary, said Gordon. In comparison, residents in the rural areas of the county receive one-half a deputy.

Gordon estimates the county receives 100,000 calls a year inside the enhanced patrol district.

'This levy will support 57 peace officers,' said the sheriff. In addition, the levy would be used to pay for seven civilian staff, most of whom work in the records department. Those numbers include 19 new deputies that would be added over the course of the levy's five-year history. Those deputies would be needed to accommodate as many as 38,000 new county residents expected to pour into Washington County before the levy expires, say county officials.

Gordon said passage of the local option levy also allows his office to place resources in gang enforcement, narcotics, ID theft and other special departments.

Even though the economy is shaky at the moment, Gordon said some public services are so critical they shouldn't be overlooked.

Although an early poll showed that the levy would pass with only a 53 percent voter approval rate, residents since 1987 have consistently passed the enhanced patrol district levies except for a May 2002 levy that failed to garner a double majority. That levy passed six months later.

Gordon admits that while a failure on the May ballot could potentially mean laying off deputies, an already crowded November ballot might be the next step. However, he said he wouldn't want to operate during those months where he would have to find alternative revenue sources.

'My immediate response would be hiring freezes,' said Gordon.

Still, Gordon is optimistic about the levy's chances of passing. The last enhanced levy in November 2002 had a 68 percent approval rate with 60 percent of voters casting ballots.

Ballots go out May 2 and must be returned to the county election's division no later than 8 p.m. on May 20.