Hispanic Committee Endorses County Levies

Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan, left, and Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering talk about the need for additional law enforcement personnel at Monday's Hispanic Advisory Committee meeting.

Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan and Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering have been making the rounds lately trying to convince voters to support a pair of levies aimed at enhancing county law enforcement.

On Monday night, the two came away with an endorsement from the Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee, which voted 5-0 to support the two levies.

Levy 30-14, if passed, would allow the sheriff’s office to operate the jail at full capacity. The 252-bed facility is currently operating at just over half capacity. The levy would cost all county taxpayers – rural and city – 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee voted 5-0 to support two county levies that would add 18 new patrol deputies and six additional jail staffers.
The second levy, 30-97, would generate enough revenue to allow the sheriff to hire 18 additional deputies, as well as six new staffers for the county jail. Only rural residents will vote on this levy and, if passed, it would cost them 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The county currently has only seven patrol deputies on staff to serve the county’s 78,000 residents. In contrast, the city of Umatilla has seven police officers to serve its 7,000 residents. The county has over 3,000 square miles, compared to just over four miles for the city of Umatilla.

“I’ve needed the sheriff’s department quite a few times and they weren’t available,” said Eddie de la Cruz, chairman of the Hispanic Advisory Committee (HAC). “It’s a huge county and not enough deputies.”

Elfering said the lack of available law enforcement in the county was the top complaint he heard while running for county commissioner last year.

“We heard this over and over and over on the campaign trail that we need to do something,” Elfering said.

Umatilla County has the lowest number of patrol deputies (0.34 per 1,000 residents) compared to neighboring counties. Walla Walla and Grant counties have 1.4 per 1,000, Union County has 1.8 per 1,000 and Morrow County has 2.3 deputies per 1,000. If the levy passes, it would boost the Umatilla County’s patrol ratio to 1.05 per 1,000.

“It’s no wonder, unless it’s a serious event, that the sheriff’s office can’t respond,” Elfering told the HAC.

Rowan said the two levies would help the county hold offenders accountable by dedicating more staff to law enforcement and keeping offenders incarcerated.

“We’re asking voters to say ‘yes’ to support additional staffing for patrols and the jail,” Rowan said. “That way we can stop the revolving door.” Rowan said there are many instances in which an arrest is made but, because the current jail staff cannot handle anymore inmates, the offender is released before the arresting deputy or officer is finished with the paperwork.

Rowan told the HAC that if the levies pass, he intends to hire bilingual staffers. The election is Nov. 5.