• Medford voters will make the call on library tax hike, agricultural district

    City Council also will let voters make the call on proposed agricultural district
  • Voters in Medford should be able to decide whether they want to pay more property taxes to keep libraries from closing, the City Council decided Thursday.
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  • Voters in Medford should be able to decide whether they want to pay more property taxes to keep libraries from closing, the City Council decided Thursday.
    "It absolutely should go before voters," Councilor Dan Bunn said.
    The five members of the council who were present unanimously voted to include Medford in a possible special district in the May 2014 election that would allow libraries to be operated independently from the county.
    The council also unanimously approved allowing residents in Medford to vote on a proposed agricultural district that would not tax more than 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The money would be used to support the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center
    The owner of a house assessed at $158,800 — the median value in Jackson County — would pay $7.94 per year.
    For the library district, Jackson County property owners would have to pay up to 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value if the measure passes, or $120 a year on a $200,000 property.
    A proposed special district to fund Jackson County's libraries would generate an estimated $9 million a year, enough to greatly increase library hours.
    Jackson County commissioners Don Skundrick and Doug Breidenthal appealed to councilors to allow city voters to decide. They've made similar pitches in other communities.
    "I can't imagine a library district without the city of Medford," Skundrick said. "This is where the population is. This is where the economic vitality is."
    Skundrick said a poll showed greater support among likely voters to pay slightly more for libraries if it could increase the hours of operation. Libraries closed temporarily in 2007 because of funding problems with Jackson County but reopened with reduced hours.
    "This is a disaster that our city and our county cannot afford again," said Medford School Board member Tricia Prendergast. In other actions, the council approved a salary increase for firefighters.
    A 2-percent increase will be retroactive to July 1. Another 2-percent increase will take effect on July 1, 2014, followed by a 2.25-percent increase on July 1, 2015.
    In addition, the health insurance cap, the maximum amount the city will contribute to an firefighter's health care plan every month, will rise from $1,430 to $1,460 in 2014, then to $1,500 in 2015.
    The total cost over the three-year contract for the city is just over $1 million.
    "I'm proud to endorse this contract," Councilor Chris Corcoran said.
    Councilor Karen Blair was the only councilor to vote against the increase, despite her general support for firefighters. She said the council voted recently for new fire stations.
    "There is no easy way to say no," she said, before citing a quotation from a Rolling Stones song. "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.
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