SHADY COVE — After nearly an hour of heated debate, the City Council approved the city's inclusion in the proposed Rogue Valley Heritage District.
Thursday's 3-2 vote came one month after the council delayed its decision in order to solicit the opinions of city residents. It also came five years after the council unanimously voted not to approve a previous attempt to form a district.
The main disagreement Thursday was over taxes and the right to vote.
"One thing I will absolutely not do," said Councilor Leith Hayes, "is vote yes on this resolution that would give the possibility of our citizens being taxed. If we vote yes on this and every citizen in Shady Cove voted no, and it passed anyway, they'd be taxed. I don't think that's fair."
The Heritage District proposal sets a maximum tax rate of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation that district officials estimate would raise about $800,000 a year in support of Jackson County's 15 historical societies and museums, and also fund historic preservation. The levy would cost $10 a year for the owner of a home valued at $200,000.
Cities have been asked to decide whether they want to be included in the Heritage District. Voters in the jurisdictions that agree to participate will decide in May 2014 whether to form the district.
In March, Tam Moore, chairman of the district's formation committee, told the council that if the district were approved by county voters, he estimated the annual property tax collected from all Shady Cove residents combined would total $10,900.
"If we vote against this, and say no," said Councilor Jim Ulrich, "then we are saying to every one of our citizens that you have no right to vote for this."
"I agree," said Mayor Ron Holthusen, "I believe it's more important to err on the side of giving the people the right and the opportunity to make a vote and make a decision."
Councilor Gary Hughes disagreed and said he had many reasons to oppose the district, but primarily he believed residents just didn't want more taxes.
"You want to know the history of Shady Cove and how the people will vote?" Hughes said. "In the late '90s, we couldn't pass police bonds. "… We've not only gone through one water bond issue, we've gone through three that we couldn't get passed."
Comments from the fewer than 20 people who attended the meeting were equally divided.
"Just because we don't have an historical museum or site here," said Mary Stirling, "doesn't mean we don't have history — doesn't mean that sometime in the future we might want to do something in that area."
Heather Johnson disagreed.
"This is about theft through taxation," she said.
Councilor Bill Kyle, who has always opposed formation of the district in the past, said he was "torn over this," but cast the deciding vote in favor of allowing residents to vote on the issue.
Freelance writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.