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Medford wants voters to decide whether to preserve county's 16 historical societies

Medford voters should get a chance to decide if a new district should be formed to help preserve Jackson County's rich history, the City Council decided Thursday.

The Our Heritage Political Action Committee asked the council to endorse a ballot measure that seeks to add a maximum 5 cents on every $1,000 of assessed valuation. On a house with an assessed value of $200,000, the annual extra tax would be $10.

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution that would allow Medford residents to vote in a May 2014 election on whether the city should join with the rest of the county in creating the district.

Councilor Al Densmore said he personally supports the concept of a special district that would provide the minimal funding for the 16 historical societies.

However, he said the resolution only lets voters decide for themselves.

"It in no way implies an endorsement of the district," Densmore said.

He said he would like more information about possible impacts on other taxing districts from the heritage district tax proposal.

Of the 11 incorporated cities in the county, 10 have passed resolutions supporting the proposed heritage district. Central Point was scheduled to vote on the issue Thursday night.

To qualify for the ballot, the heritage district supporters will need to collect signatures from 15 percent of the 121,152 registered voters in the county, or 18,173 signatures.

"We've got a long way to go to collect those signatures," said Tam Moore, chairman of the district's formation committee.

Supporters have 180 days to collect signatures once the ballot title is approved. In 2008, supporters of the Rogue Valley Historic District failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

If passed, supporters say, the levy would raise enough money for the county's 16 historical societies to be self-sustaining. The levy would raise more than $800,000 a year, providing enough to cover basic costs for the historical societies.

Historical societies previously received 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed value from a 1948 permanent levy. That money is still being collected, but it became part of the county general fund when voters approved ballot measures 47 and 50 more than a decade ago, and the money no longer goes to historical societies.

Unlike the 1948 levy, the historical societies are trying to create a special district that would be protected by state statute like school and fire districts.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.