Loss Of Timber Payments Cuts Deep In Oregon

Voters in Oregon are deciding whether to raise their taxes to make up for lost timber payments from the federal government. In Josephine County, the sheriff has laid off 80 percent of his deputies.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listing to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Imagine dialing 911 and the voice on the other hand says: Sorry. Due to budget cuts, no one can help you. Well, that's the reality for tens of thousands of people in rural Oregon. Many counties in the state have cut public safety budgets due to the loss of vital timber payments. That's money from the federal government paid to counties with large national forests - in other words, land that can't be taxed.

The bill authorizing those payments has expired. And Amelia Templeton, of Oregon Public Broadcasting has the story of one county now struggling to survive without them.

AMELIA TEMPLETON, BYLINE: Josephine County, in the southwest corner of Oregon, was probably the hardest hit. The sheriff's department lost more than half of its funding. As a result, deputies no longer respond to emergency calls in the evenings or on the weekends. Calls like this one, made just last August.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: 911 emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: My ex-boyfriend is trying to break into my house. I'm not letting him in, but he's, like, tried to break down the door, and he's trying to break into one of the windows.

TEMPLETON: The threat she was reporting was real. Her ex was wanted by the state police for parole violations. We're not using the woman's name because it's NPR's policy not to name the victims of sexual assault. She told dispatch her ex had hurt her before.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He put me in the hospital a few weeks ago, and I've been trying to keep him away.

TEMPLETON: The call came in on a Saturday at 4:58 in the morning. None of the sheriff's deputies in Josephine County were on duty. So dispatch transferred the call to the Oregon State Police, but they also didn't have anyone available.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I don't have anybody to send out there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away, or do you know if he's intoxicated or anything?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I've already asked him. I've already told him I was calling you.

TEMPLETON: The dispatcher stays on the phone with the woman for 10 minutes and 21 seconds. She tells the caller to try to hide in the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Is he still there?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes, he is.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: OK.

TEMPLETON: And four times in total, she says there isn't anyone who can help.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Once again, it's unfortunate you guys don't have any law enforcement up there.

TEMPLETON: According to police records, a few minutes later, the woman's ex-boyfriend, Michael Bellah, used a piece of metal to pry open her front door. He then attacked her. Eventually, state police arrested him, and he pleaded guilty to sexual assault and sodomy, among other charges.

SHERIFF GIL GILBERTSON: There isn't a day go by that we don't have another victim.

TEMPLETON: That's Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. He didn't want to comment on this particular case. But after the budget cuts went into effect, he sent out a press release. In it, he warned victims of domestic violence to, quote, "consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services."

GILBERTSON: There's absolutely no consequences to committing a crime today given the fact that law enforcement is as weak as it is.

CHRIS MALLETTE: The whole system has crumbled, and we're the only ones left. And we don't have the badge, and we don't have the gun.

TEMPLETON: Chris Mallette provides counseling and social services to victims of domestic violence and rape in Josephine County. Mallette says she's seen women give up on trying to get help from law enforcement and choose instead to stay with their abusers.

MALLETTE: Because they're more likely to get killed if they leave, and when they know that there's not going to be a police response, they are a lot less likely to take those steps.

TEMPLETON: For years, Mallette says, federal timber payments funded good public safety in this county. They also kept local tax rates low. Now, she says, it's time for Josephine County residents to start paying for their community's safety. A tax increase to fund public safety is before Josephine County voters in a special election today. For NPR News, I'm Amelia Templeton in Medford, Oregon.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: