EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- Facing the loss of federal timber money, Lane County Sheriff Tom Turner plans to eliminate half the county's jail beds, lay off 80 employees and cut the patrol force so drastically that deputies will respond to only the most violent crimes.
The county commission on Wednesday gave the sheriff the OK to start the cuts in about 30 days, which is the amount of notice he's required to give before making layoffs, the Register-Guard reported (http://bit.ly/vZdUJg).
Turner calls the cuts "widespread, life-threatening and potentially disastrous."
He said they would include 131 jail beds, which is half the number available for local inmates. That means many violent offenders will be turned out rather than held. Another 100 beds are used by federal law enforcement agencies under a separate contract.
The patrol unit now numbers 16 but will be cut to just five.
Starting the cuts now will save money this year that can ease the budget pain a bit next year, Turner said.
Many Oregon counties are struggling with next year's budgets. For decades, they shared in revenue from logging on federal land, but the timber cutting is down sharply since the 1990s. Stopgap subsidies expire soon, and Congress hasn't acted to renew them.
Lane County expects to lose more than $13 million next year. That, say the commissioners, leaves them little recourse other than to call for federal funds to be restored and for increased timber production, and to plan for the worst.
"We are just victims of circumstance in this," said Commissioner Faye Stewart.
All the Lane County departments have been told to be ready to cut next year's budgets by a quarter.
The assessor's office says the county cuts would mean the loss of a state grant, and the result would be the loss of about half the staff. The office would be unable to create an accurate tax roll and collect all taxes owed, Assessor Anette Spickard said in a letter to state Rep. Phil Barnhart.
The commissioners discussed the possibility of raising new revenue dedicated to law enforcement through a special levy or new taxing district, but they noted that 14 previous attempts to pass a revenue measure have failed.
"We're going to have to try again, and that's just all there is to it," Turner said. "And we're going to have to keep trying until that's what we get to.".