The Oregonian, Wednesday, May 22, 1996, p. C2

'Books and crooks' OK with county voters

By Bill Stewart
of The Oregonian staff

Raspberry Multnomah County voters opened their wallets Tuesday for "books and crooks," apparently approving tax levies and bonds for operation and expansion of libraries and jails.

In incomplete returns - absentee votes will be counted later this week - more than 73 percent endorsed extending a library operations levy for another three years. That will allow libraries to expand their hours. The vote was closer for a companion bond issue to renovate and repair library branches, but nearly 64 percent of voters still approved the $29 million bond.

The jail measures also passed. A three-year jail operations levy passed with about 59 percent of the vote while a $79.7 million bond issue to expand jails was approved by about 55 percent to about 45 percent.

The library levy, remaining at 43.34 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, will collect $40.34 per year on a home assessed at $100,000. It will keep the main and all branch libraries open, many at expanded hours, and will end a 20-year-old policy of Monday closings at some of the busiest branches.

The library bond is for repairs - roofs, and electrical and heating systems - at a number of branches, and increased computer availability for patrons. Additionally, the Hillsdale, St. Johns, Belmont and Hollywood branches need building renovations.

On the jails side, the levy rate is locked at 77.96 cents per $1,000 in property assessment value, or $77.96 per year on a $100,000 home. Levy proceeds are for operating five existing jails plus new jail space, restitution center expansion and speeding the booking system.

Officials said that without the levy, at least 560 jail beds would be lost.

The jail bond is for: 330 new jail beds; additional juvenile space; a facility for abused children; restructuring the law and justice computer network.


Portland NORML notes: The Oregonian spearheaded the campaign for new Multnomah County jails, running one fear-mongering crime story after another in the weeks before the election. While the daily paper published several editorials endorsing the new-jail and levy measures just in the week leading up to the May 21 election, not a single "letter to the editor" opposing the measures was ever printed. Other major Portland media also failed to print or broadcast any information that might have undercut public support for the new-jail bond and levy measures.

Once the paper had gotten its jails, however, The Oregonian's description of what taxpayers had purchased changed. Whereas the May 22 article above reports that the new-jail bonds will buy 330 new beds, previous coverage in the paper, for example "Keep jail measure lean" (Feb. 29, p. B10), reported that the bonds would purchase 480 new beds. At $79.7 million for 330 new beds, the cost for each bed is $241,515.15. The Feb. 29 staff editorial said the bonds would mature in 20 years at a total cost to taxpayers of $134 million with interest. In the week before the election, however, that 20-year period became 30 years, but no new estimate of interest costs was disclosed.

Only after the election was the truth available - the total cost of the jail bonds with interest will be about $208.5 million, almost $75 million more than the most accurate estimate reported before the election. Also, the money will buy 544 new beds, not the 480 or 330 reported by the media. The three-year operating levy, accurately reported before the election as costing $89 million, means voters agreed to spend $297.5 million on jails. The $208.5 million tab for jail bonds has still not been reported by local media. For more details see the Portland NORML weekly news release for June 6, 1996.

For more information about how The Oregonian duped Multnomah County residents into voting for new jails by suppressing vital information and opposing opinions, you are welcome to examine several other files linked to Portland NORML's History of Oregon Reform Efforts page: two Usenet posts, Please Vote "No" for New Jails in Multnomah County and Just Say No to New Jails and The Oregonian's "Cells for crooks". Additional background information on the bonds and levy for new jails can be found in A Speech to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.


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