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MailTribune.com
  • Task force seeks solutions to county funding gap

    Panel will submit cost-saving ideas by the end of May
  • As Jackson County grapples with a $23 million budget gap, a group of business and community leaders hopes to offer possible solutions by the end of May.
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  • As Jackson County grapples with a $23 million budget gap, a group of business and community leaders hopes to offer possible solutions by the end of May.
    "I don't see any single silver bullet that solves the problem," said Dan Thorndike, chairman of the newly formed Task Force on Jackson County Services.
    After wading into the complexities of government funding and services, the general counsel for Medford Fabrication said, "The point is that it is complicated."
    The 13-member committee, created by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, will likely offer a list of suggestions after they finish their 90-day review, said Thorndike.
    The recommendations will come after voters on May 15 decide the fate of a three-year levy that would reopen all 15 libraries in Jackson County after they close at the end of the day April 6.
    The task force will also know whether Congress decides to pay for a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act that expired last year.
    The task force has broken into subcommittees to analyze roads, libraries, social services and public safety, which are all going to be affected by looming budget cuts.
    While Thorndike doesn't see the task force's job as micromanaging the county, he does anticipate it will make suggestions about restructuring the library system and other services.
    Thorndike said he's upset by criticism of the library system for not planning for the potential loss of funding. The library system had been doing a good job of persuading voters to approve operating levies in the past before Measure 47 and 50 came along in 1997, said Thorndike.
    Alan DeBoer, vice-chairman of the task force, said he agrees with the county that human services and public safety should take priority over libraries in the budget process.
    "You may not want to go to the libraries because you might get attacked going there" without adequate police services, he said.
    The former Ashland mayor and owner of Town and Country Chevrolet in Ashland said one long-term solution would be to allow more logging in local federal forests, specifically former Oregon and California (O&C) Railroad lands, but not at the levels of the 1980s. He said he doesn't support proposals favored by Jackson County commissioners to sell off the lands, but would instead like them transferred to the state.
    He said the money from logging would help avoid going to the taxpayers once again to bail out government.
    "I'm tired of hearing, as all taxpayers are, that there is never enough money," he said.
    Despite his support for prioritizing county expenses, DeBoer said libraries in Jackson County are an essential part of the 15 communities where they are located.
    DeBoer said the three-year levy will give the county breathing room to find a long-term solution to fund libraries.
    "I want to publicly state that it's an absolute travesty to close a library in any community," he said.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.
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