Public safety must be top priority

The cold reality of the results of the cuts in federal timber payments to counties throughout Oregon was driven home last week with the story of the Florence-area couple who said they were shot at by a brazen young man armed with a rifle and a pistol.

The family called the Lane County Sheriff’s Department, which didn’t respond because, due to severe budget cuts, it only had three deputies patrolling the entire county and they were tied up with other calls and couldn’t drive to the couple’s home, which was outside the Florence city limits. The alleged shooter finally left after firing off a few more rounds in the direction of their house and vehicles.

Two days later the couple spotted the alleged shooter walking into town and accosted him. The wife tried to put him under citizen’s arrest and Florence police got involved this time because the players were now within the city limits. At the Sheriff’s Department’s request, police got the man’s name, address and date of birth and let him go.

Finally, on Friday, three days after the alleged incident, Sheriff’s deputies arrested a 20-year-old Florence man on a charge of reckless endangerment.

Without going into more gory details, the fact that there was no law enforcement response to the initial incident is what really gives us pause.

Lane County has had to cut one-third of its Sheriff’s Department workforce, severely reduce its jail space and cut its working deputies to 20 hours of patrol, along with other county services. The experience of this family is an example of what happens when there is no law, particularly in areas where the “don’t-tell-me-what-to-do” mentality runs deep.

Thanks to the fact that Linn County’s economy is less heavily dependent on federal timber than many of our neighbors to the south, we’re not in as desperate straits as Lane and Josephine and Curry and some nine others where cuts have been massive.

But their problem is our problem too. We may have more private timberlands, but we’re losing federal dollars as well.

One solution that’s been suggested is to seek to get citizens in hard-hit communities to agree to tax hikes to help fund essential services.

Some of the hardest-hit counties, admittedly, are in this pickle because for years they lived off dollars flowing out of federal timberlands and didn’t have to tax their citizens at the rates that other, non-forested, counties did. To make up the loss of federal timber funds would require Josephine County to increase taxes more than 400 percent, Douglas County more than 300 percent, and Lane County 50 percent. Not likely to happen.

Better forestry practices in our state and federal forestlands would help ease the pain. Simply removing the overgrowth that is sitting there, ready to burst into a raging inferno one day, would bring some needed revenue to impoverished communities and help reduce the danger many of our communities face.

Loud voices are needed too. History has been changed by people in our land who figured out how to make themselves heard. It might be blatant public relations strategy, but it’s smart. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Elections are approaching and it’s time to demand that those who would serve us in the Legislature, come up with solutions to this financial challenge that’s not going away. There are no easy answers here. No one wants more taxes. Many communities are sitting next to a time bomb of poorly managed timber in our forests. The self-appointed environmental stewards are poised to combat any sensible move to reduce that danger.

And, to top it off, the U.S. Congress has made it pretty clear that. as a whole, it doesn’t really give a rip about our problems.

This is a basic problem. Our founding fathers pointed out, the main purpose of government is to defend the lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its citizens.

When you’re sitting in your home with someone shooting at you and you can’t get an officer of the law to do anything about it, that is government failing to defend those basic rights.

When the first thing to go, as the financing stream to local government slows, is public safety, something’s wrong.

We need to elect competent, dedicated leaders to right that wrong.