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County should let voters decide SOHS levy

The Southern Oregon Historical Society has seen nothing but hard times since its voter-approved levy was rolled into the county's overall tax base in the late 1990s. Now the Jackson County commissioners seem reluctant to give the society a glimmer of hope.

The Historical Society has asked the county to place a very modest levy request — 5 cents per $1,000 assessed value — on the November ballot. The levy would generate enough to keep the county society operating at a bare-bones level and give some help to smaller historical groups.

In the meantime, SOHS has requested $400,000 in cash assistance to prevent having to lay off all but one staff member. Unwilling to approve that request, the commissioners instead authorized County Administrator Danny Jordan to expedite the sale of the U.S. Hotel building in Jacksonville. The county owns the building, and has agreed to share the proceeds with the society.

The county gave SOHS $300,000 last year. Selling the U.S. Hotel more quickly — which likely means lowering the roughly $1 million asking price — is fine, but if that takes too long, the county should help the society stay afloat in the meantime.

Jordan warned that a SOHS levy could face competition from levy requests by the Rogue Valley Transportation District and Rogue Community College, but those measures are on the May 17 primary ballot, not the November ballot.

This county has a rich history, and years of a fully functioning, tax-supported historical society amassed an impressive collection of artifacts, documents and photographs. The county bears some responsibility for seeing that collection preserved and protected, and made available to researchers and to the public through exhibits. It's not unreasonable to ask voters to help with that.

The commissioners said an election would cost the county $20,000 to $30,000. That seems a bit high, given the fact that the county is running a major general election in November anyway. And if the society gathered signatures to put the measure on the ballot, the cost to the county would be the same. Still, the commissioners want to spend $15,000 on a study to see if a historical levy has a chance of passing.

There is an easier way to find out if a levy will pass. Just put it on the ballot.