MEDFORD — The City Council decided Thursday to let local residents decide whether they want to pay extra property taxes to support historical societies.
"I'll leave this up to voters," said Councilor John Michaels.
Tam Moore of Our Heritage Political Action Committee asked the council to endorse a ballot measure that seeks to add up to 5 cents on every $1,000 of assessed valuation. On a house with an assessed value of $200,000, the annual extra tax would be $10.
The council approved the drafting of a resolution that would endorse placing Medford within a proposed heritage district, if voters approve. The resolution will be considered at a future council meeting.
Only Councilor Dick Gordon voted against the proposal, saying he worried it could affect the amount of tax revenues collected by the city and by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.
He said he supports preservation of history, but he pointed to a 1948 permanent levy of 25 cents per $1,000 to support historic preservation. That money is still being collected, but it became part of the county general fund when voters approved ballot measures 47 and 50 more than a decade ago, and the money no longer goes to historical societies.
Gordon said the county continued to support historical districts for a few years, then stopped all support.
"The county actions did a disservice to our community," he said.
Councilor Chris Corcoran abstained from voting on the issue.
Of the 11 incorporated cities in the county, five have passed resolutions supporting the proposed heritage district: Eagle Point, Jacksonville, Gold Hill, Talent and Butte Falls.
Before the measure can appear on the ballot, local cities must decide whether to opt in or out of the heritage district. Supporters then must collect signatures from 15 percent of the registered voters living within the boundaries of the district to qualify the measure for the May 2014 ballot.
If passed, supporters say, the levy would raise enough money for the county's 16 historical societies to be self-sustaining.
Moore said the levy would raise more than $800,000 a year, providing enough to cover basic costs for the historical societies, but not enough to make them thrive.
Two groups in Medford that would receive money from the levy are the Medford Railroad Park and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
In 2008, supporters of the Rogue Valley Historic District failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Most councilors said the history of this valley is worth saving.
"I hope the voters support it," said Councilor Al Denmsore.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.