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Jacksonville council members to clean up while SOHS is down

JACKSONVILLE — City Council members will be mowing lawns and raking leaves at the Southern Oregon Historical Society's Jacksonville Museum to help the financially struggling organization.

"If I go over for a few hours, it's not a big deal," said Councilman Chris Gilman, who will mow lawns after he gets off work. Councilmen Paul Becker and Dan Winterburn said they will rake leaves at the museum.

The society will close the Jacksonville Museum and most of its other operations for six months beginning today to help shore up its budget after losing financial support from Jackson County in 2007 as part of a lawsuit settlement. The society also laid off seven employees.

"One way or another, we have to keep the museum open. It's really the heart and soul of Jacksonville," said Becker. "We feel it's a tremendous loss."

The trio's offer came up Tuesday when the council considered a request from the society for assistance with grounds maintenance and building winterization. The council approved city help with lawns, leaves and winterization at the museum and the Beekman House, another historic property the society maintains. The council also established a subcommittee to explore ways to aid the society. In August, the council agreed to waive the society's parking district assessment for one year.

Volunteer labor will help keep maintenance costs down for a city that operates on a tight budget, said Gilman.

"We are not professionals, so there will be certain areas (that need) expertise for maintaining grounds where they will step in," said Gilman. "Winterization will be done by city services."

"When the leaves really start coming down we'll see how many truckloads we have here," said Becker.

Society Executive Director Allison Weiss expressed gratitude for the town's assistance.

"It is just very encouraging that people have stepped up and expressed concerns and are willing to help," said Weiss. "They want to make clear to us that closing down (permanently) is not an option for them."

Jacksonville Chamber of Commence officials, local businesses and other organizations throughout the county also have offered to help, said Weiss. The society will approach other government entities for assistance, she added.

The Jacksonville City Council waived $920 in parking district fees for one year at its Aug. 18 meeting. The waivers covered the Beekman House, the museum complex and the U.S. Hotel downtown. Parking district fees are assessed to all businesses and organizations in areas that carry the historic-core designation.

Because the area was laid out in the horse-and-buggy days, there is no room for new parking lots, said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. A district was formed to create parking elsewhere rather than require businesses to provide spots. A large parking area west of Oregon Street was created by the district.

District assessments are based either on square footage or, in the case or restaurants, on seating capacity. Under district formulas, each business is assessed $20 per parking space per year.

Becker and council members Linda Meyers and Donna Schatz will be on the subcommittee that will explore options to help with the society's survival.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. He can be reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.