In recent years Medford has seen a minor boom in the construction of millions of dollars of housing and commercial buildings. This has resulted in hundreds of thousand of dollars in additional property tax revenue to the county. Like many of my friends, I am asking why can't some of these additional dollars be used to keep the libraries open? Can anyone from the Jackson County commissioners' office answer this question?

In recent years Medford has seen a minor boom in the construction of millions of dollars of housing and commercial buildings. This has resulted in hundreds of thousand of dollars in additional property tax revenue to the county. Like many of my friends, I am asking why can't some of these additional dollars be used to keep the libraries open? Can anyone from the Jackson County commissioners' office answer this question?

— Murrey D., Medford

When it comes to the vagaries of Oregon's tax system, we think you've come to the right place, Murrey. It might appear the county is awash in money since there has been so much construction in the past 10 years. However, not all the tax money collected goes into county coffers. In fact, the county received $26.9 million last year, or 14 percent of the overall $195 million in property taxes collected. The remainder of this tax money goes to special taxing districts (cities, fire districts, urban renewal, etc.), bond payments and things like the state fire patrol.

By comparison in 1997-98, the county's portion of property taxes was $16 million, so annual revenue growth has been about 5 percent.

According to County Assessor Dan Ross, the county is limited in how much property tax it can claim against a new house. Because of Measure 50, the assessed value of a new house is typically only 50 percent of the real market value. Also because of Measure 50, passed by voters in 1997, property taxes can only increase by a maximum 3 percent a year.

While $26.9 million sounds like a lot of money, particularly to the underpaid staff at Since You Asked headquarters who work largely for donuts every other Wednesday, remember the county lost an annual $23 million from a federal safety net program, which led to the closure of libraries. Do the math and the relatively slow increase in tax revenue ($11 million over the last 10 years) — minus inflation — can't much make up for the loss of $23 million every year. Essentially you're talking pennies gained versus dollars lost.

Maybe growth over another 10 to 20 years could add $23 million in tax revenue for the county, but again you have to consider inflation, which eats up most of that. And as we grow, we have to spend more money to provide the same services (sheriff needs more deputies, jail population grows, more roads need more work, etc.)

Another way to look at it: Contrary to our neighboring counties, our growth in Jackson County has perhaps made the cuts less draconian.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.