Levy evens out law enforcement services for urban and less-urban sectors of Washington County

Voters in May should vote "aye" on a levy to extend city-level police services to people who live outside the cities of Washington County.

Ballots are being delivered this week and the voting deadline is Tuesday, May 16.

The measure would extend the current tax levy of 68 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value for five years, starting in mid-2018. The Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District covers numerous unincorporated communities north of Beaverton, between Beaverton and Hillsboro, and outside Tigard and King City. This is no small population; it's estimated to serve some 208,000, or about a third of the county's population. That includes Aloha, Bethany, Bonny Slope, Bull Mountain, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill, Claremont, Garden Home, Metzger, Raleigh Hills and Rock Creek.

What do we get for that extended service? A total of 151 full-time positions, including 127 sworn officers and 24 non-sworn staff. That includes eight new deputies over the life of the levy, or into 2023.

The funding mechanism for the Sheriff's office is complicated but worth understanding before voters fill out their ballots. At the base level, the office is funding by countywide property taxes, just like every other service in by Washington County.

Beyond that, voters have OK'd a Public Safety Local Option Levy for the past few decades. That's because, in the wake of Oregon tax-reform efforts, that base-level eroded significantly. The local option levy was introduced in 2000 to shore up the Sheriff's services: law enforcement, jail, criminal prosecution, juvenile services, community corrections and more.

Atop that comes the Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District, created in 1987, which provides funds for an additional officer for every 2,000 residents (on average).

Voters have OK'd the enhanced district seven times: sometimes by landslide votes, like 68 percent "aye" votes in 1993 and 2002. The closest, 2012, was a squeaker with 51 percent "aye" votes.

Now they're being asked to do so again.

The renewed levy would cost $191.92 for the owner of a home assessed at the countywide average of $282,200 in 2018-19. That would be up $7.40 from the current levy's final year, which starts July 1.

With a staff of 570, the Sheriff Pat Garrett leads one of the largest police agencies in the metro area — only the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County sheriff employ more people. His staff employed 100 more people 2015 than the police departments in Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin combined. And, as in most counties, the sheriff runs the jail.

There is no question that Oregon has a convoluted tax system which, with its reliance on the highly elastic employment taxes and lack of a moderating sales tax, makes it difficult for the average resident to know where the dollars are being spent. Would we prefer one funding mechanism for all of the sheriff's functions? Of course. Is that a political reality in Oregon? No.

So look past the crazy-quilt patchwork of funding mechanisms and recognize this: Washington County is growing, and growing quickly. A 15-minute drive from any single spot in the county will take you past vast tracts of new housing starts.

The Enhanced Sheriff's Patrol District evens out the demands of law enforcement resources, whether your mailing address is Beaverton or Bonny Slope, Hillsboro or Helvetia.

Voters should cast a "yes" vote for Measure 34-272.

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