Not so fast

Historical preservation is a county function, despite Rachor's remarks

Jackson County commissioners apparently need a history lesson regarding the connection between county government and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

At least that seems to be the case after reading that Commissioner John Rachor is opposed to placing a heritage district proposal on the May ballot because it might encourage other non-county functions to float proposals of their own.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society was a county function for half a century, with its own dedicated property tax levy. When voters approved a series of property-tax limitation measures in the 1990s, tucked away in the fine print was a clause rolling all separate levies into the county's overall tax base. That included the Historical Society levy and the Jackson County Library System levy. The Extension Service never had its own funding source, depending instead on appropriations from the county general fund to match federal and state dollars.

Commissioners (not the ones now in office) then decided the county could not afford to continue to support libraries and museums at previous levels, leading to closing the libraries and reopening them under outsourced management with reduced hours. The Historical Society sold off assets and transferred responsibility for some properties to the city of Jacksonville in its efforts to stay afloat.

Now the Our Heritage Political Action Committee wants to ask voters to create a special taxing district to levy no more than 5 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to support 17 museums and societies under the umbrella of the Jackson County Heritage Association.

There are good arguments to support such a move, as there are good reasons to support continued library services and the myriad programs of the Extension Service. Not wanting to load three separate money measures onto the May 2014 ballot is a legitimate concern. Voter fatigue often results when too many tax measures appear at one time.

But that wasn't Rachor's reasoning. While Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said he might support placing the heritage district measure on a later ballot, Rachor said he wanted to concentrate on the libraries and Extension programs, suggesting museums and historic preservation have no connection with county government.

Actually, the money that once flowed to those functions now contributes to the county's general fund, which, among other things, pays the salaries of Rachor and his fellow commissioners.

Reasonable people may disagree about the priority of history versus libraries versus the Extension Service, but all have long-established connections to county government, and county voters ought to be consulted about their futures.


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