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Historical district measure headed to ballot

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has decided to place a proposal for a historic district on the November ballot and to provide a cash infusion of $400,000 to help keep the Southern Oregon Historical Society temporarily afloat.

A Rogue Valley Heritage District would provide permanent funding for SOHS and about 15 other historical societies and museums scattered throughout Jackson County, said SOHS Board of Trustees President Phil Long.

"The board of the Southern Oregon Historical Society is really appreciative of the commissioners' consideration of this and their willingness to sponsor the measure and allow Rogue Valley residents to make a decision," Long said this week.

The heritage district would cost five cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $10 per year for a home assessed at $200,000.

Commissioners Rick Dyer and Doug Breidenthal voted last week to ask county staff to prepare draft ballot measure language for their approval. They also authorized giving the historical society $400,000 — although the society must relinquish all claims it has to the historic U.S. Hotel building in Jacksonville.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts voted against the moves. She has previously argued historical society supporters should gather signatures and place a funding measure before voters themselves.

SOHS had hoped to get a share of proceeds from the sale of the U.S. Hotel, which has long been on the market for over $1 million but has failed to attract buyers.

Jackson County Commissioner Danny Jordan said although the county can now have proceeds from the hotel's sale, if it lowers the price to $750,000 in order to sell the building, the county will essentially lose money. The county previously loaned SOHS $200,000 out of projected sale proceeds, will have to perform about $180,000 in repairs and is now giving SOHS $400,000 — for a total outlay of about $780,000.

For its part, SOHS will make the rounds to city councils in Jackson County to try and convince cities to be a part of the heritage district and allow their residents to vote on the issue.

Resolutions are due before July 21 from cities that want their residents to vote on the measure and be included in the heritage district if it passes countywide, according to the county's legal department.

If approved, the heritage district could be similar in size to the library district approved by voters in 2014 that funds branch operations throughout Jackson County, Long said.

The library district is guided by independently elected directors who are not under the control of the county government. A heritage district would also have independently elected board members.

In the 1990s, SOHS had its own taxing district and an annual budget of approximately $2 million. Oregon voters passed property tax restrictions that decade that eliminated many independent districts.

The proposed heritage district would generate about $800,000 to $850,000 annually for SOHS and community historical societies and museums, Long said.

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