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Victory in hand, Burger focuses on funding crisis.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

Lane County Sheriff Russ Burger cruised to victory over two opponents in Tuesday's primary election, winning a four-year term to shepherd the department through a budget crunch that is on course to bring major cuts to public safety by the end of the month.

Burger, a three-year incumbent, took 76 percent of the vote in early returns, easily besting challengers Rick Dotson and Daniel Schmitz.

"The community is comfortable and feels like I have the experience and skill set to do the job," Burger said. "We've got to start working really hard right now to find a solution to the funding crisis public safety in Lane County is facing."

Lane County is budgeting for the fiscal year that begins July 1 without $47 million in federal timber aid that Congress traditionallyhas provided but has not yet renewed. The county plans to cut about 10 percent of its personnel, and public safety will absorb deep cuts because that service relies heavily on the timber aid.

The sheriff's office will by May 29 reduce patrol coverage to 20 hours a day, down from around-the-clock coverage.

More local offenders will be released early from a Lane County Jail that already releases 3,000 to 4,000 local offenders early annually because of staff shortages.

Burger said the sheriff's office and Oregon State Police will try to work together to provide patrol coverage, but that he expects there to be gaps.

"There may be days when there are a couple hours when nobody is on the road," he said.

Dotson, an 18-year deputy in the sheriff's office, wanted to increase department accountability through an advisory board to county government and the legal system.

Schmitz, a former deputy and police officer in California, aimed to replace vacant deputy positions in the jail with less expensive corrections officers, in an attempt to free up money for patrols.

With Tuesday's victory in hand, Burger said he will work with the public on funding solutions for public safety.

"We need to know what the public's willing to pay for, and how they're willing to pay for it," Burger said. "We need to find a champion - an individual or group who's willing to take the lead on behalf of the community, to find a solution."

In an effort to preserve patrols and jail capacity, Burger has said he will cut jobs in administration, resource development, records and communications.

Burger said another goal is to reduce recidivism through offender drug and alcohol treatment and the Sherman Center, which matches criminals to rehabilitation services.

He also wants to expand the jail's capacity. There are just less than 100 beds for local offenders and the number could drop to about 75 beds by July 1, due to cutbacks.

A county of Lane's size should have 1,000 to 1,500 beds for local offenders, he said.
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Title Annotation:Elections
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 21, 2008
Words:479
Previous Article:Brown looks to the fall after primary win.
Next Article:2008 Oregon Primary Result.
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