Extension, library measures will get public hearings

Public hearings have been scheduled on two measures Jackson County commissioners plan to refer to the May 2014 ballot creating districts to support libraries and the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

Public hearings for the Extension proposal are set for Jan. 8 and Jan. 29 at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium. Public hearings for the library measure are set for Feb. 12 and March 5.

General fund cuts restored

Of $1.4 million in general fund cuts made to several Jackson County departments during budget proceedings last April, a majority has been added back, county officials said.

That's due to underspending by county departments and additional revenues gleaned from property taxes, along with anticipated revenues from PERS reform and timber payments.

About $1 million has been restored to the county's libraries, Oregon State University Extension Service, veterans' services, public health, Health and Human Services partners, a wildlife services officer, the RVTV contract, communications and marketing, and Rogue Valley Council of Governments for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

A cut of $250,000 to the sheriff's budget was not restored, because the department is expected to generate $1 million by renting out jail beds to federal and local police agencies, said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

A cut of $100,000 to the Development Services budget also remained in place because of additional revenues.

If approved by voters, the library proposal would cost property owners 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That's $120 a year on a $200,000 house. The tax would generate about $9 million a year, eliminating the need for support from the county general fund and restoring hours to pre-2007 shutdown levels, supporters said.

The service district to fund the Extension would tax homeowners between 2 and 5 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value, or between $4 and $10 annually for someone who owns a $200,000 home. That would raise between $321,000 and $804,000 a year, which would pay for new positions such as a 4-H program assistant, Master Gardener and land-steward coordinators, an office assistant, and a property and building manager. Supplies and materials, maintenance and county fair judges and prizes, now paid for by the county, also would be covered by the new funds.

All 11 Jackson County cities have agreed to let their communities be included in the vote for the special districts.

"We do have all of the petitions," Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor said.

Following April 2013 budget hearings, when the county labored to close a $6.7 million funding gap, officials decided that 14 of the 15 library branches — all but Medford's — would close during the 2014-15 fiscal year unless alternative funding sources could be found. The Medford library would close during the 2015-16 fiscal year, they said.

Maureen Swift, who is involved in helping organize an educational campaign, said she thinks the library measure has a shot, but she said a lot of work needs to be done.

"People seem to be a little bit more cognizant of the danger of having libraries close, possibly because they've lived through it all once," Swift said, referring to a six-month shutdown of all county libraries in 2007.

"We're still hopeful."

"I don't think it's a slam dunk," Extension Director Phil Van Buskirk said of the extension proposal. "I think we have a lot of work to do to really educate the community as to what we do."

Without the funding, the Extension would likely close by the next fiscal year, Van Buskirk said.

"It could be a do-or-die situation," he said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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