CANYON CITY — The Grant County Court is considering the idea of creating a taxing district to help fund the sheriff’s office.
The possibility was raised at the court’s Wednesday, Jan. 18, meeting.
Since John Day shut down its police department in October 2021, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office has been the county’s only local law enforcement agency, although the Oregon State Police does have an outpost in John Day and can provide aid when needed. Other municipalities in the county once had their own police departments, but those shut down years ago.
Sheriff Todd McKinley has repeatedly told the county court he needs more money to hire additional patrol deputies. McKinley has also said he has difficulty hiring and keeping deputies because Grant County’s pay rates are lower than those available from other law enforcement agencies around the state.
No decision was made on the proposal at the court’s Jan. 18 meeting, although the commissioners voted to keep discussing the idea.
Taxing districts raise revenue by imposing a tax on property within the district’s boundaries and are commonly used to help finance schools, libraries and other public institutions.
Grant County has three special districts: the Blue Mountain Hospital District, Oregon State University Extension and 4-H District, and John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District.
Other entities within the county that get a dedicated slice of property tax revenue include eight municipalities, five school districts, six cemetery districts and three rural fire protection districts.
County Judge Scott Myers stressed that creating a new taxing district would be “a months-long process” that would involve multiple public hearings and would ultimately require the approval of Grant County voters.
Assuming a new district is approved, Commissioner John Rowell said it would take some time before it could collect any revenue for the sheriff’s office.
Commissioner Jim Hamsher noted that some Grant County communities, including his town of Prairie City, have contracted with the sheriff’s office in the past to provide a certain amount of patrol time.
“My opinion has been all along that it’s the cities’ responsibility to provide law enforcement for their communities,” he said.
Rowell said the commissioners should “put everything on the table” in discussing ways to provide additional funding for the sheriff’s office but added that the taxing district’s rates didn’t need to be excessive to do that.
“It’s not going to be a Cadillac we’re after,” Rowell said. “We’re just trying to get some stability for law enforcement.”
The commissioners talked about holding the first public hearing on the matter in February but couldn’t settle on a date. They tabled the matter for further discussion at their next meeting on Feb. 1.
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office has a budget of $3.9 million for the current fiscal year (although the sheriff cautions a substantial amount of that is one-time-only COVID-relief funding). The office has 24 employees, including 10 who work in the jail, four patrol deputies and four supervisors who also pull patrol duty.
McKinley said he wants to hear what citizens have to say about the idea of a taxing district.
“I’m optimistic what we could do,” he told the newspaper. “We’ll wait for the (public hearing) to see what we come up with and whether it’s even a feasible alternative.”