This May's election had two ballot measures to help fund the County Museums and the County Jail. Both were property tax levies that issued a $0.05/$1,000 and $0.29/$1,000 tax respectively — so $0.34/$1,000 in total if both passed.
The two organizations are short of funds because of the downturn in tax revenue due of the recession, and lack-luster "recovery". The County Museums lost all their funding when the Klamath County Commissioners decided to not fund the upcoming year through the general fund. The County Jails have been in an awful sorts for about a year now operating with only one or two of the three jail pods "open for business". The passage of both measures would've ensured the County Museums could continue as previously and that the County Jail would at a minimum have two pods open for the foreseeable future.
On the surface both causes seem just and noble. But if one tries hard enough, any cause can seem just and noble. The real issue is what is the county government obligated to fund and what are they not obligated to fund. We all face similar issues: when you don't have enough money to eat out and pay the electric bill something has to give. Either you enjoy a nice meal on the town and go without electricity that month or you open a can of tuna but can turn on the lights a night. It's not terribly difficult. We all make these types of choices throughout our lives.
Klamath County has a legal obligation to keep "peace in the community". What that typically translates into is a county police force (patrols), a legal team (district attorney and staff) and a jail for criminals. Klamath County does NOT have any obligation to run a county museum system. There is no mandate for this service. While it is nice to have a county museum, it is a nice to have, not a must have.
Let's take it a step further. Klamath County also has a county library system. This system is funded by a $0.49/$1,000 property tax passed back in 2001. This year the Library will take in nearly $2.4 million. When the tax was first implemented the revenue raised was $1.5 million. In ten years the library system has increased their income by 60%. Wouldn't it be nice if you could take your salary from 2001 and increase it 60%? I think most of us would sign on for that deal in a heartbeat. The County LIbrary is so flush with cash that it is thinking about building another facility on South Sixth street. Again, the Library is not mandated county function. Public Safety is.
Library: Yes. Museum: Yes. Jail: No
So let's see here. Klamath County residents are now being taxed $0.54/$1,000 for two non-mandated services. At the same time County Sheriff can't get a $0.29/$1,000 levy passed to help fulfill his mandate. Something is seriously wrong. The County Museums will continue as they did before their defunding by the Commissioners. The Library is looking where to build another facility. The Sheriff can't keep the Jail open beyond one of the three pods.
Common Sense: Can We Afford That?
How about we take a common sense approach? Let's ask the Library if they can make due for the next year or two operating at the budget they started with back in 2001. There are plenty of businesses and families that have needed to tighten their belts just this way during the last several years. Why can't the county government? Especially a branch that is a non-essential service. Then let's take that money and use it to keep at least two of the three jail pods open. It seems reasonable. Sure the library will have to do with less, but welcome to the reality the rest of us must live in.
As far as the County Museums it's really a shame that their levy did pass. If it hadn't I'm sure in a year or two county revenues would've rebounded and the museums could've re-opened. On the other hand, Klamath County has two or three other private museums that could've really grown without competition from a publicly funded entity. "Save Our History" was the cry. But really? The private sector could've easily stepped up to the plate and offered the desired history services of the community. What's more, they could've done it in a far more efficient manner. Government never can compete with private enterprise because the incentives of the private sector is survive or die. Governments are rarely driven in this manner and so sloth and waste and fraud and mediocrity become their mantra.
So did the county really need more money? Our answer is no. There was (and is) plenty of money to do the things the county is mandated to do.