The day Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley was hired as a deputy in 1987 he received a letter informing him that if the county's law enforcement levy failed, he was out of a job, along with 22 other employees.
That year, the levy passed. Riley kept his job.
On Tuesday, Riley, who will retire at the end of the month, saw another four-year levy handily approved by Linn County residents. The tally: 16,702 "yes" votes to 7,180 "no" votes for a 70 percent to 30 percent victory margin.
Overall voter turnout was 29.55 percent, with 24,995 ballots out of 84,445 returned on time. One voter was 10 minutes late turning in two ballots at the Linn County Election Office; the voter was told that although the office staff could accept the ballots, they would not be counted by law.
“I’m very appreciative of the voters of Linn County,” Riley said. “We have had long-standing support for our law enforcement levy and that is vital for us to continue to keep the peace and have an open jail bed when it is needed.”
Riley said that the margin by which the levy passed "humbles me. I believe that says the residents of Linn County believe we are doing our job. I feel blessed to live in a county that supports law enforcement because there are plenty of other counties in Oregon that don’t.”
Riley said the first levies were for one year. Eventually, he said, the levies grew to four-year terms, which makes it easier to retain staff and create accurate annual budgets.
Linn County Juvenile Director Torri Lynn was at the County Clerk’s Office with Riley and echoed the sheriff’s sentiments.
“Linn County has always supported us at a high level,” Lynn said. “It shows there is faith in our system and that the public believes we are working hard to put kids on the right path.”
Lynn said the levy funds benefit the county’s juvenile detention and probation services.
“Our goal is to support kids and help them become good, taxpaying citizens,” Lynn said.
The levy renewal was set at $2.83 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same amount as the current levy. Estimates are it will generate about $111.2 million over four years.
The levy funds 76 percent of the Sheriff’s Office budget, 14 percent of the Juvenile Department budget and 10 percent of the District Attorney’s Office budget.
The bulk of the Sheriff’s Office $30 million budget is personnel costs, Riley said.
Only about $4 million to $5 million is directed toward equipment or other expenses.
“We provide service 24/7 and that takes people,” Riley said. “We also answer every call personally because we believe that is what the people of Linn County want us to do. That’s not true in other countries.”
Four years ago the county upped the levy rate to $2.83 to provide funding to open 90 beds in the jail that had been closed due to budget cuts.
Riley said there are 186 full-time Sheriff’s Office employees. The sheriff added that when Linn County residents see a patrol car, “it is only the tip of the iceberg. The law levy also supports our 9-1-1 dispatcher who relayed information to the deputy, the detectives who follow up on cases and the jail support staff who make sure there is a bed for someone who is arrested.”
Riley said representatives of all three sectors of the Law Enforcement Levy work as a team.
District Attorney Doug Marteeny said the vast majority of his office budget is for staffing. There are 34 staff members, although not all are full-time employees.
Last year, the office handled 4,024 cases.
Lynn said the 14 percent of his budget that comes for the levy totals about $3.4 million.
Linn County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller said last-minute voters greatly improved the overall turnout. In the middle of the day Monday, returns were only about 24 percent. A steady stream of vehicles pulling up to the ballot drop box on the south side of the courthouse Tuesday, along with numerous people dropping their ballots at the Clerk’s Office, pulled that number up to 31 percent.
“We were probably as busy as any three days leading up to this,” Druckenmiller said.