Roads to the future

Dwindling dollars threaten services; what's the best way to pay for them?

The news that Jackson County no longer will pay to pave unimproved and gravel roads comes as no surprise. Given that requests from property owners to share paving costs on rural roads have dwindled, it's also no surprise the announcement generated little reaction. But county residents should not ignore this seemingly minor inconvenience, because it is only a taste of what is to come if the county does not find new sources of revenue.

The county previously would help property owners pay to pave unimproved roads if the residents first brought them up to county standard. The county also would split the cost of paving gravel roads with property owners, but no longer.

For several years, the county had a policy of paving one mile of gravel roads every year, but that ended in 2007 because of declining timber payments from the federal government that helped feed the county road fund.

The fund has lost $4 million since 2008, leading to the recent announcement that no more improvements will be made to unpaved roads.

That may seem a small matter. Residents make the choice to live on gravel or dirt roads in the first place, so continuing the status quo is no real hardship.

The county will provide maintenance on roads if property owners first bring them up to current standards, but few can afford that.

If anyone is dismayed to learn of the county's new policy, it could be worse. So far, Jackson County has not lost any jail capacity. Sheriff's deputies are still available to respond to calls.

That's not the case in Josephine County, which reduced its jail capacity to a bare minimum last year, releasing 39 prisoners in the process, and the Sheriff's Office often has no one to send to calls for assistance. The city of Grants Pass recently contracted for 20 beds to house people arrested by city police, but that's not a long-term solution.

The future doesn't look good in Jackson County, either. County officials have warned repeatedly that present levels of public services are not sustainable without new sources of income.

The county made cuts this year to the Sheriff's Department, Extension Service, public health partner agencies, veterans services and others.

Several of those entities are looking for new sources of money. The Extension Service wants to create a taxing district to support its operations. The Historical Society is trying the same approach. Residents in the south end of the valley are considering a library district to fund some of the county system.

Finally, a group in Josephine County is proposing a constitutional amendment to redirect some state lottery proceeds to the counties.

We'll take a look at these ideas in editorials we're planning for Friday and Sunday's papers, and we'd like to know what you think about the best way to pay for county services. Find this editorial online at and leave a comment.

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