Voters have decided to renew Benton County’s public safety and health levy for another five years.
Measure 2-110 — the only item on the ballot for most county residents — was passing by a resounding margin in unofficial returns Tuesday night. In updated returns posted at 9:29 p.m., the levy was sailing to victory with 69.61 percent of the vote, 14,540 to 6,348.
Benton County Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo was part of a group of 16 levy supporters holding an election watch party at a downtown Corvallis restaurant when the first results came in just after 8 p.m.
Jaramillo sighed with relief and smiled when the numbers appeared on her smartphone.
“Sixty-nine percent!” she announced to the group.
“I think that’s a great margin,” fellow Commissioner Xan Augerot said.
“We’ll take it,” Jaramillo agreed.
District Attorney John Haroldson confessed he was little apprehensive before the election because the vote came shortly after county property tax bills went out and legislation was introduced in Congress that could cut tax credits for homeowners.
“I think those are two big things that happened at the same time,” he said. “That’s not the dynamic we’ve been in in the past.”
Apprehension turned to thanks when the outcome of the vote became clear.
“As district attorney and as a public servant, I sincerely appreciate the support from the citizens of Benton County for the work that we do in law enforcement,” he said.
Sheriff Scott Jackson expressed his appreciation as well.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I know nobody likes paying taxes.”
In public appearances prior to the election, Jackson added, he tried not to talk about the types of cuts that would have to be made if the levy wasn’t renewed. But in fact, he said Tuesday night, if voters rejected the measure it would have meant fewer jail beds available for criminals, fewer deputies patrolling the roads and other reductions in service.
“In reality, (the levy) is 53 percent of our office. It would have been huge cuts,” Jackson said. “Fortunately, we don’t have to face that.”
Measure 2-110 renews the county’s current local option levy through 2022, at a maximum rate of 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $225 a year for the owner of a home assessed at $250,000.
The levy, which provides about 25 percent of the county’s discretionary revenue, is expected to bring in $7.7 million next year with the amount gradually rising to $8.8 million in the measure’s final year.
Benton County voters first approved a local option levy in 2000 as a way to pay for jail bed rentals in neighboring counties after a jail bond measure failed at the ballot box, and they have generally been amenable to renewing and even expanding it.
In addition to renting 40 extra jail beds, today’s version of the levy also helps pay for round-the-clock sheriff’s patrols, rehabilitation services for inmates, substance abuse treatment, counseling and detention for juvenile offenders and a number of other law enforcement expenses.
It pays the salaries of two deputy DAs and a paralegal in the District Attorney’s Office while helping to fund infectious disease prevention, school-based mental health services and other functions in the Health Department.
No statements against Measure 2-110 were filed for the county voters’ pamphlet, and no organized opposition to the levy emerged during the run-up to Tuesday’s election. By contrast, seven statements in favor of the measure appeared in the voters’ pamphlet, and a political action committee called Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Benton County raised and spent more than $10,000 to persuade voters to approve the levy renewal.
With no big-ticket items on the ballot, turnout was light. Some 20,915 of the county's 56,162 registered voters participated in the vote-by-mail election, a turnout of 37.24 percent, according to revised results announced Tuesday night.