Lane County Could Use Donations to Help Fund Public Safety

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Carol Berg-Caldwell

Passions run high concerning the Lane County Budget Committee's recommendation not to reopen 84 recently closed jail beds, given a likely reduction in state funds paid to Oregon counties. The committee saw a need to hold in reserve the recently granted federal payments that have no guarantee of renewal. However, many citizens see a severely reduced law enforcement system and want to reopen the 84 beds immediately. Look at the letters to the editor, both pro and con; will the polarization stop?

There is an opportunity for us all to join together and seek a solution. We can take at least one innovative step now.

Let's create a way for the county to receive voluntary donations in support of the many valuable public safety programs it operates. Donors can support public safety by designating which department is to receive the contribution - jail needs, crime prevention, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, mental health services, child abuse prevention, homeless shelters or other valuable services. All these programs work together to secure an acceptable level of public safety.

Since March, I've been giving $20 to the county each month, asking that it be divided among child abuse and domestic violence prevention, mental health services, homeless programs and job training and rehabilitation programs at the county jail. Jails are necessary, as are social services and crime prevention programs. They are the carrot, jail is the stick. Both the carrot and the stick need our support.

I recently signed a petition to reopen the 84 jail beds. The circulators acknowledged my concern that expanding jail capacity must not further reduce funding for social services and crime prevention programs, and accepted that qualifier with my signature. I believe the Fund the Jail group understands the importance of all parts of our public safety system.

My $20 monthly contribution isn't much, but it's what I can manage now, simply by skipping a couple of movies and dinner out each month. Some have more to give. Larger contributors will want to take advantage of tax write-offs available.

Supporters of the voluntary contribution plan soon will be working with county staff to structure a special account for donations. One commissioner has called this the "passion to action" approach. …