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Tax is key to Springfield's fight against crime.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Dan Egan For The Register-Guard

An editorial in the May 1 Register-Guard urged Springfield voters to repeal a tax that would pay for the operation of the Springfield jail - a jail that voters approved last November.

While asking readers to defeat this tax, The Register-Guard's editors did acknowledge there is a problem. They stated, `Last November, Springfield voters made it clear they want a new jail to deal with crime rates that rank among the highest in Oregon. Statistics show that 88 percent of criminal offenders booked into the county jail by Springfield police are released within 24 hours - an appalling 99 percent within 48 hours.

`It's hard to fight crime when you can't keep criminals in jail.'

We are being buried in crime. There is a barrage of crime stories every day in the local newspapers. One of the most appalling recent stories was about the heroin addict who passed out with a screaming baby in his car just feet from the small police station near the University of Oregon. When arrested, he said, `I don't know why you're wasting your time. I'm going to be out of jail in two days.'

He should know. He had been booked 17 times on 44 charges since 1997.

The thrust of The Register-Guard's editorial was to see what happens with Lane County's public safety district proposal and wait until a better funding source can be identified.

We don't have time to wait. In order to allow adequate time for hiring and training jail employees, funding must be secured at least two years in advance, city officials have said.

City councilors have said that they won't build a jail without having funding already allocated to operate it. This means the money that voters approved in the bond measure will be spent on building the new police station and courthouse. And the reason the measure passed - to help fund a new jail - will fall by the wayside. We have been here before.

This idea of waiting for the county to act isn't new. But the county hasn't passed a levy in more than 10 years, and it may take years just to win enough support to even get to a ballot measure.

Every government entity in the county has been searching for various revenue sources for an array of Lane County's needs for years. The county's most recent suggestion - that citizens pay a 10 percent income tax surcharge - was trounced at the polls a few years ago. There is no magic source of money, and unfortunately, no one has provided a solution.

What are the other options? Perhaps an increase in property taxes, which relies on passing levies every three to four years? That's how we found ourselves with half-empty and underused facilities in the first place.

How about a sales tax to staff jails? Or pulling funds from our already cash-strapped education system? Would a new business tax or business permit be more popular?

We have a problem: No one wants to pay.

Yet we continue to suffer the effects of a high property crime rate every day we fail to address this epidemic.

For those who say the proposed tax is unfair, consider that this tax levels the playing field for companies such as Sprint and Cingular as they compete with Qwest. Qwest pays a 5 percent franchise fee to Springfield to provide land-line service within the city limits.

The theory behind the franchise fee is that Qwest is paying for use of the city's right-of-ways by running its phone lines. Cell phone calls travel over these same lines after a phone's signal reaches the nearest cell tower. These cell companies should pay for their use of the city's right-of-ways as well, and a utility tax that accomplishes this seems like a fair deal.

The Springfield Chamber of Commerce believes it's critical to keep criminals locked up. As acknowledged in a recent Springfield News editorial, there is no perfect tax. But we can't afford to let criminals run free either. It's time for Springfield to act, and we strongly support our City Council's decision to provide funding for jail operations.

Please join us in voting no on Measure 20-104 to ensure the completion of the municipal jail project.

Dan Egan is executive director of the Spring- field Chamber of Commerce, whose board of directors co-signed this column.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 10, 2005
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