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Our recommendations on ballot measures

We aren’t issuing editorial endorsements of candidates in the primary, but we have already taken positions on some city and county ballot measures. With one exception, our views on those haven’t changed. Here’s an overview:

The one change involves Measure 15-190, Jackson County’s proposal asking voters to create a local service district to build and operate a new jail. We remain convinced that the county badly needs a new jail; arguments claiming better substance abuse treatment and mental health services can entirely solve the overcrowding problem in the old jail are well-intentioned but, we think, mistaken. Certainly more and better treatment programs are needed, but a jail built nearly

40 years ago that was too small the day it opened is not adequate to serve a county of more than 200,000 people.

Still, the taxing district and the construction cost for a major project are a heavy lift for a county struggling through the coronavirus shutdown, and residents can hardly be expected to shoulder a property tax increase of 87 cents per $1,000 of assessed value at this time. County Sheriff Nate Sickler has stopped campaigning for the measure, and has no plans to bring it back in November, but he says the need isn’t going away. He’s right. County residents must deal with the inadequate jail at some point. Just not this month.

The other measures on which we’ve taken positions are far less burdensome.

Medford’s request to increase lodging tax on hotel rooms and extend it to “transient lodging intermediaries” such as vacation rentals and AirBnBs won’t cost city residents at all, and the resulting revenue will help build a major event center along with swimming pools the city badly needs.

Yes, the city is planning on a modest increase in the parks utility fee to complete the funding package, but that’s not on the May 19 ballot, it’s not a huge cost and it won’t affect property taxes. We recommend Medford residents vote yes on Measures 15-187 and 15-188.

The city of Ashland is proposing a property tax levy to build a new City Hall and make Pioneer Hall and the Community Center usable again. Existing levies for Fire Station No. 1 and library construction bonds are expiring this year, so the overall tax bill for Ashland residents will not increase if the measure passes.

The City Council considered several locations for a new City Hall, and settled on the least expensive: reconstructing the historic building on the Plaza, leaving the seat of government in the heart of town.

Opponents, many of whom are critical of the city’s overall budget practices, say the city should do a better job with its money. We’re not disputing that, but capital projects such civic buildings are generally not paid for out of operating budgets; they are financed over decades, just as private citizens do when buying a house.

Opponents also contend that the economic devastation of the coronavirus shutdown make this a bad time to embark on such a project. On the contrary, construction spending in the heart of Ashland will inject money into the local economy just when it is needed most, while making a statement of optimism for the future of the community.

An $8.2 million bond issue is not an outrageous sum of money for a project that will result in a new City Hall and the restoration of two crucial city buildings that serve a variety of community needs. We recommend Ashland residents vote yes on Measure 15-193.

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