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Is Clackamas County Trading Public Safety for Light Rail?

The Press Release

For Immediate Release

Monday, May 28, 2012


Is Clackamas County Trading Public Safety for Light Rail?


Through a FOIA request, the chief petitioners for the Clackamas Rail Vote Measure 3-401 received copies of a letter from Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts to the Board of County Commissioners and the text of Sheriff Roberts’ testimony to the County Budget Committee, expressing his deep concern about the implications of the Portland Milwaukie Light Rail project (PMLR) for public safety and other basic County services.   (These are included below.)

The alarming information contained in these documents strikes at the very core of why the chief petitioners support a public vote on PMLR.  Clackamas voters who overwhelmingly supported a public safety levy last November were not voting to free up county funding for light rail.  As the sheriff stated, “…moving ahead with light rail will mean moving backwards on public safety….”

The Board of County Commissioners is ready to trade voter approved public safety for a non-voter approved light rail project.  This is unacceptable.  The county cannot afford to participate in the PMLR as intended. The only option is to withdraw from the Inter-Governmental Agreement and urge TriMet to scale back the project.

The Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail Project is too big, too costly, at the wrong time, with inadequate funding and lacking public support.  An optional phasing of the project to terminate at Tacoma Street will reduce the financial burden for all the local partners and allow time for future economic growth to provide the adequate funding and public support not currently available.

We thank Sheriff Roberts for his dedication to public safety.  We need more elected officials who are willing to stand up for the priorities defined by the voters.  

Jim Knapp, Oak Lodge Water District

Mary Olson, Lake Oswego City Councilor

Steve Spinnett, Mayor of Damascus


Chief Petitioners Measure 3-401

Contact: maryolson@northwest.com or 503-522-6424

The Sheriff's Email to the County Commissioners

From: Roberts, Craig

Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2012 4:46 PM

To: 'BCC - All Commissioners'

Cc: 'Wheeler, Steve'

Subject: Future Funding Concerns

Board of County Commissioners,

You recently released a public announcement, indicating that you will move forward on May 22 with a full-funding agreement for the Orange Line.  As Sheriff, I feel compelled to speak out about the impact this decision will have on public safety and other essential services that the county provides to its citizens.

I am neither in favor, nor opposed, to the expansion of mass transit — provided that sufficient resources are made available to ensure the safety of the public. However, the budget implications of this decision concern me deeply.

In order to pay for its $25 million share of the Orange Line, the Board of County Commissioners will have to allocate $1.9 million from the general fund each year for the next 20 years to cover the debt service. It is my understanding that this money will come from property taxes that are currently paid into the urban renewal district around Clackamas Town Center, which is set to expire in 2013.

Those of us in public safety have been waiting three decades to see the benefits of the expiration of this urban renewal effort, and the need is especially acute at this moment in the county’s history. Since fiscal year 2007-08, our budget allocation from the county’s general fund has fallen far behind allocated costs, emergency dispatch rates — even inflation!<

After making do for years with innovative cost cutting — as well as reductions in the training we provide for our deputies and other measures — last year we had to eliminate 18 FTE and had our first layoff in more than a decade. Having twice voted to support a public safety levy, this is clearly not the direction the citizens of Clackamas County want to see for their Sheriff’s Office.

The construction of the Orange Line may well be a worthwhile public project. However, it does not exist in a vacuum — moving aheead with light rail will mean moving backwards on public safety, and likely other basic services to county residents.

I urge you to recognize that the initial planning for this project was developed years ago, when the local and national economy were much stronger. Since then, our economic situation has deteriorated drastically, and so I urge you to take a fresh look at whether or not this project is still in the county’s best financial interest before the full-funding grant agreement is signed.   Thank you for your consideration.

Craig Roberts

Clackamas County Sheriff

The Sheriff's Remarks to the County Commissioners

Budget Presentation Remarks Prepared for

Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts

To be delivered May 21 at 2:15 p.m.

Good afternoon, County Commissioners and members of the Budget Committee.

I’m Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts. I’m here today to offer some brief comments regarding the Sheriff’s Office and Community Corrections budgets for the 2012/2013 fiscal year.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge all of the time and effort that the members of our organization have put into preparing this year’s budget — especially our Budget Manager, Barbara Hass, Undersheriffs Dave Kirby and Matt Ellington, each of our five division captains and their staff.

Thanks to all of their hard work, I am confident that the document we have provided to you is sufficient to answer all of your material questions about our budget for the next 12 months.

First I would like to thank the county for the opportunity in the last budget year to move into the vacant Sunnybrook building in order to consolidate operations and improve efficiencies.  

I would like to remind the budget committee that when this opportunity was presented to me by the county, I made it clear that I would not sacrifice staff by paying debt service for improved facilities.  

With that understanding we consolidated our operations into the Sunnybrook building and moved forward with other facility projects.

This year I’ve decided to put this budget into a broader context and offer you my opinion of what it means for public safety in Clackamas County.

In short, this is not a budget that I recommend. It is not a budget that I endorse.

It is the budget I was required to put forward by the limits placed on me by the County.

After a careful examination of the County’s proposed budget, I believe that the budget does not reflect the public safety expectations of the citizens of Clackamas County and the Board of County Commissioners’ strategic plan to, “Protect people from violence through continuing to build a best in class public safety system . . .”

Between Fiscal Year 05/06 and 10/11, the county’s total property tax revenue has increased by nearly 27 percent — from $72 million to $92 million.

During those six years, the Sheriff’s Office budget as a percentage of that property tax revenue has declined from 53 percent to 45 percent.

As a result, the Sheriff’s Office budget has not kept pace with the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for the Portland Metropolitan Area — and we have not been able to keep up with

•         …increasing labor rates negotiated — but not paid for — by the county

•         …county allocated costs;

•         …increasing County 911 dispatch rates

Just to name a few

Decline in General Fund support has placed the Sheriff’s Office at a critical crossroads.

We have done our part we have not stood idly by in the face of financial challenges.  Just like those in the private sector we have tightened our belts as funds have decreased.

Over the past six years, the Sheriff’s Office has implemented innovative cost-saving measures, cut back on training and reduced and eliminated public safety programs.

Last year, we eliminated 19 FTE and laid off staff.

In addition last year we were directed by the county administrator to stop filling vacancies. As a result, our staff was reduced as people retired or left employment with the Sheriff’s Office.

While not filling vacancies saves money in the short term, it increases costs in the long run. Having fewer deputies available means paying more overtime and forces a reduction in services available to the public.

Also, recruiting and training deputies isn’t a quick or easy process. It takes about two years from start to finish — so the positions that we are leaviing unfilled today will be a burden on our operations for years to come.

In this proposed budget, we are being forced to eliminate another 11 deputy positions, and we are now looking seriously at closing jail beds that have been open since 2007, with the support of the voter-approved public safety levy.

All of this is happening while the county’s property tax revenue is actually increasing.  

County government is making an affirmative decision to redirect funds away from public safety and ignore the priorities that the citizens have set.

Indeed, this is directly at odds with the county’s own five-year strategic plan which, on page 13,

lists as its first goal within its first area of focus, “Protect people from violence through continuing to build a best in class public safety system…”

There is another example within the county’s strategic plan that I feel deserves to be highlighted, because it is directly impacted by this year’s budget.

Among the county’s specific objectives within its goal of helping to keep citizens safe is to: “Reduce recidivism within our public safety programs…”

In Clackamas County, one of our best opportunities to steer people away from crime lies with Community Corrections — our parole and probation program.

Since the Sheriff’s Office assumed management of Community Corrections, it has earned a national reputation for its effectiveness in reducing recidivism which fulfills the county’s stated goal.

This year the proposed budget forces us to eliminate 20 Community Corrections positions. Only about one third of this cut is the result of reductions in state funding.

It is important for me to point out that the citizens of Clackamas County have twice stepped up to support a public safety levy, most recently with a 76% voter approval — in spite of the weak local economy.

However, even as we are able to continue to fund some deputies with the levy resources the public has given us, the County is cutting the number of deputies it supports through the general fund.

Put another way, the money that the voters are giving us through the front door to increase patrol and jail services is being carried out the back door by the County’s cuts to the Sheriff’s general fund support.

As the chart behind me reveals, the last time we had this few deputies being paid for by the county’s general fund was in fiscal year 05-06.

Let me reiterate:  While property tax revenue continues to increase the law enforcement cuts we are looking at reflect the reduction of Sheriff’s Office general fund support from 53% to 45%.

Along with every other member of the Sheriff’s Office, I have worked hard for the past six years to protect the public to the best of my ability, in spite of the limitations that have been placed on us.

I have an obligation to the citizens of Clackamas County and to you, the Budget Committee, to make clear that these unsustainable budgets put the safety of the community and the lives of our deputies at risk.

In summary this proposed budget will require me to:

•         Eliminate 11 deputy positions in addition to the 19 positions we had to cut in order to balance last year’s budget

•        Eliminate 20 positions in Community Corrections that will result in 10.5 layoffs

•         Close the Residential Center eliminating 34 beds designed to hold offenders accountable in the community rather than in jail

•         Not open the 50 jail beds created by the county approved remodel

•         Consider closing 84 jail beds which will directly offset the 84 beds funded by the levy

As the independently elected Sheriff, it is my duty and obligation to explain….

why voters will not be getting the increased services they voted for.  

It gives me no pleasure to offer this message to you.  On two occasions I have gone before the voters of Clackamas County to ask them to vote for a public safety levy with the promise that it would maintain a certain level of critical law enforcement services.  This proposed budget breaks that promise.

That is why I strongly urge this budget committee not to adopt this budget without amendments that meet the public safety expectations of Clackamas County citizens and keeps the promise to the voters.

Thank you for your time.