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SOHS to ask county for $400,000

The Southern Oregon Historical Society plans to ask Jackson County for $400,000 to help keep the financially struggling society afloat.

Society board members are scheduled to make their case for the funding to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Jackson Room of the Jackson County Courthouse, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

The proposal met with little enthusiasm during a meeting earlier this week of the Jackson County Citizens Budget Committee, which is made up of three citizens and the county's three commissioners.

"Why they keep coming back to the county for money, I don't know," said Dick Rudisile, a citizen member of the Budget Committee.

"I think it's a bad investment," he added.

April Sevcik, another citizen member of the Budget Committee, said she served on the historical society's board of directors in the past, but left in frustration. She said the society reached out to communities throughout the county and only found strong support for historical society funding in Jacksonville, a destination for history-loving tourists.

"What I heard in the county was, 'No way!' — except in Jacksonville," Sevcik said.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society also plans to ask commissioners to place a measure on the ballot to ask voters whether they want to raise property taxes for a special funding district for the society. The society has been unable to gather enough signatures to put the issue before voters itself.

The county would incur costs of about $20,000 to $30,000 to place the issue before voters, County Administrator Danny Jordan said.

The $400,000 could be stopgap funding to help the society until money started flowing in from a special district approved by voters.

Sevcik said it should be up to the people to decide whether to fund the historical society.

Craig Morris, the third citizen member of the Budget Committee, said he thinks the historical society has great value to the community and it would be a shame for it to shut down.

But Rudisile said closing the historical society could cause county residents to rally to its side.

"There's nothing like running out of money and shutting down to focus the mind," he said.

Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said he worries the historical society will have to liquidate artifacts to pay its bills if it doesn't get financial support. He said the voters should have a chance to decide whether they want to fund a special district.

The historical society has sold off artifacts that don't relate to Southern Oregon history to raise money.

In the late 1990s, Oregon voters passed property tax restriction measures that eliminated many independent funding districts — including one that supported the historical society. In the late 1990s, the historical society received about $2 million a year, according to financial data from the county.

The historical society sued Jackson County in an effort to secure funding. The two sides settled the case in 2003 and the county provided diminishing payments.

Funding was reduced to approximately $1 million in the early 2000s.

A previous Board of Commissioners agreed to give the historical society $300,000 during the fiscal year that ended in summer 2015. That money came out of economic and special development funds, according to county data.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.