Oregon Timber Country Voters Rejected Taxes So Often That They Have No Libraries, No Late-Night Law Enforcement—And Soon, No Elections

The New York Times examines the results of saying no to taxes over and over and over again in southwest Oregon.

With nearly 10 feet of rain a year in some parts of the Elliott State Forest, you don’t need to go far to find water. (Joe Riedl)

As Portlanders fill out ballots deciding whether to pass the largest school bond in Oregon history, The New York Times files a dispatch from a very different part of the state—where the default answer to any tax is no.

The story examines repeated voter rejection of tax increases in Oregon's timber counties—Douglas, Curry and Josephine—and the resulting cuts in basic services.

Douglas County is closing its libraries. Josephine County has a catch-and-release policy for nonviolent criminals because voters defunded the jail. Curry County has no sheriff's office staffing after midnight, and is running out of money to conduct elections. The Times reports: "Even conducting an election this fall could be beyond reach, said Reneé Kolen, the Curry County clerk, who has one full-time staff member left in her elections division, and is facing another possible 30 percent cut in funding this year in her budget."

These southwestern Oregon counties, nestled in some of the richest timber stands in the Coast Range, are conservative, often desperately poor—and always wary of taxation. The federal timber payments have dried up, but the aversion to tax measures hasn't changed. That means residents of Douglas County, where the biggest city is Roseburg, pay 60 percent less in taxes than the typical Oregonian, the Times reports.

The dilemma is nothing new. But this is an excellent overview, and especially worth reading as Gov. Kate Brown tries to dig the state out of a multibillion-dollar budget hole caused by unchecked spending, property-tax limits and public employee pensions. (Oregon voters rejected a $3 billion state tax on corporations last November.)

Many conservatives want Oregon to fix its deficit by cutting government—and that's exactly what happened in the southwest corner of the state. So now there aren't any cops at night.

The story also notes an unexpected side effect of the cuts: ingenuity.

Give the whole story a read, then vote already.

Related: WW's full May 2017 endorsements.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.