Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cuts in federal payments to counties decimate rural law enforcement budgets

NPR reports today on the impact that cuts in federal timber payments are having on county budgets in the West--focusing on the impact on law enforcement budgets and consequent failures to respond in particular to domestic violence.  Amelia Templeton reports for Oregon Public Broadcasting under the headline, "Loss of Timber Payments Cuts Deep in Oregon."  Templeton focuses on Josephine County, Oregon, population 82,000, in the far southwest corner of the state.  The lede follows:
Today in Oregon, voters are deciding whether to raise their own taxes to make up for lost timber payments from the federal government. Hundreds of counties in Western states are facing a financial crisis due to the loss of timber payments. Property taxes usually pay for county services such as law enforcement. But counties in states from Colorado to California have vast national forests and can't collect taxes on that land.
To compensate counties (as arms of the state) for that loss, Congress created "timber payments."  Now, however, the bill authorizing those payments has expired, leaving many county governments in a budgetary crisis.  Public safety is bearing the brunt of those cuts in a number of counties.  The budget for the Josephine County Sheriff's Department, for example, has been cut in half.  That cut means officers no longer responds to emergency calls in the evening or on week-ends.

Templeton's story, which focuses on failure to respond to domestic violence calls in particular, reminds me of (part of) what I wrote about here regarding domestic violence in rural settings, as the 2008 economic crisis was breaking and high fuel prices were greatly restricting what law enforcement could do in rural counties, with vast areas to patrol.

Warning:  Templeton's story contains a lot of upsetting detail about the realities of domestic violence.

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