Douglas County Commissioners didn’t make a Sept. 6 deadline to put the public safety levy on this November’s ballot because of timing, according to Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman.
“Literally it was just the timing of getting through all the steps,” Freeman said.
Douglas County Clerk Patricia Hitt said she didn’t know why the commissioners didn’t sign the final paperwork that would’ve put the levy on the ballot.
“All I know is that they did put it forward, they voted on it and put it forward. We advertised the ballot title which is what we had to do, but when it came time to actually give me the SEL 801 (form) with our signatures that says, ‘Yes, this goes on the ballot’ the timeline passed,” Hitt said.
The SEL 801 is a one-page document that requires a summary of the subject, purpose and effects of the ballot measure.
On Wednesday, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said he didn’t intend to have the levy on the ballot this year.
“I didn’t anticipate that by making that request that they were going to immediately say we’re going to put it on the November ballot,” Hanlin said.
In June, Hanlin wrote a letter to the commissioners requesting that a $2.38 per $1,000 public safety levy be put before voters, but didn’t push for a particular timeframe.
Freeman, who read Hanlin’s letter during an August commissioner meeting, said at the time voters needed to decide whether they wanted to pay the taxes necessary to maintain the minimum staffing level to continue providing 24/7 patrols around the county.
“I know how unfavorable tax increases are; however, I believe the most responsible course of action is to ask voters now if they want to retain our valued public safety services before we lose them, or if they’re willing to see them significantly reduced over the next couple of years,” Hanlin wrote in his letter.
Hanlin said Wednesday when he wrote the letter to the commissioners in June, it was with the mindset of starting the process this year so that by next year voters were informed about the issue come election time.
“My concern was that we didn’t have enough time to get information out to the voters and even before that do all the analysis and the legwork that we need to do,” Hanlin said.
Some of that legwork includes polling and determining whether or not to create a political action committee for the levy, according to Hanlin.
“I don’t want to just haphazardly throw a levy out there and expect people to pass it without a full understanding of what it’s going to fund,” Hanlin said.
Hanlin wasn’t at the August commissioner meeting, but Freeman said there was no time to wait.
“The sheriff was going to do this but he was unavailable today,” Freeman said during the August meeting. “We had talked about waiting until he came back to have this, but because of the timing for the election calendar there isn’t time for him to wait.”
During the meeting, Commissioner Chris Boice indicated that the county would know what voters thought in November.
“So this is the next step, the reasonable thing for us to do, I think, is to put this on the ballot and ask the voters their opinion and come Nov. 8 I think is the day we’ll know what that’s going to look like,” Boice said.
However, when Freeman made a motion to approve putting the levy on the ballot, he didn’t mention a date.
“It was pretty late that we brought that up,” Freeman said. “We just didn’t get all the pieces done in time.”
The levy, if passed, would have generated $16 million for sheriff’s services in the first year, allowing sheriff’s patrols and the jail to continue at current service levels.
Freeman said nothing has changed and that the issue will just be brought before voters at a later date.
But he said he’s not sure if that will be May.
Freeman said he’s hoping there will be a ruling soon on the Association of O&C Counties lawsuit challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s timber harvests. The lawsuit claims the timber harvests offered fall well below the logging levels promised by a federal law.
If the courts rule in favor of the O&C counties, Freeman said he would be able to tell voters that the public safety levy is only temporary until logging money starts to come back into the county’s coffers. Freeman noted that it could take up to six years.
Ultimately, Freeman said the decision on which election the levy will show up on is up to the board as a whole. The interim replacement will likely be chosen by Sept. 19 and serve until the end of the year.
“If the will of the board is to have it on the May ballot, that’s what it will be,” Freeman said.
Hanlin said he has talked to sheriffs in other counties who told him to give himself a year to prepare for a levy.
He said he was approached by people at the Douglas County Fair in August who were supportive of the levy and those who had concerns about a lack of information relative to how quickly the election was coming up.
“I will also say that was my concern before I was ever approached by anybody as well. I knew that August to November is just a very, very short time frame to get something as monumental as a public safety levy presented and supported in a county this size,” Hanlin said.
He also didn’t give a definitive answer about when he expects the levy to go on the ballot.
“I think if we really work hard we could maybe do it in May,” Hanlin said.