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Levy would restore bus services

The Rogue Valley Transportation District is asking voters to approve a five-year property tax levy to expand and improve services.

If passed in the May 17 primary election, Measure 15-141 would tax Jackson County property owners 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $26 a year on a $200,000 house. Taxpayers currently pay about 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for RVTD services. Ballots go out Friday.

The levy would collect an estimated $1.78 million in the first year. About 62 percent of the funds would help erase a $1 million annual deficit, which RVTD officials said comes from increases in wages, maintenance and health care costs, and a reduction in federal funds. To fill the gap and maintain current service levels, RVTD has been using reserve funds, which they estimate will run out by 2018 without the levy.

The tax dollars also would be used to provide more frequent service along Highway 99 through Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland, expand service to southwestern Medford, and restore Saturday service, which was cut in 2015.

(Correction: See below)

RVTD officials also said service to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center would be more frequent, and that riders could travel out to the Table Rock Campus in White City.

About 1.3 million people use the bus service annually.

The tax would be collected until 2021, generating close to $9.5 million, according to the Jackson County voters pamphlet.

The website www.roguevalleytransitnow.org says local funding rates for RVTD have not increased since 1974, "despite the growing need for transit and the rising cost of fuel, wages, health insurance, etc."

RVTD officials said they have been whittling away at services since 2004 in an effort to make ends meet. That includes a 30 percent reduction in administrative staff in 2006 and a reduction in how often buses pick up passengers along routes to RRMC, along Highway 99 from Medford to Ashland, and around the Ashland city limits. They cut Saturday and evening service and increased fares to help make budget.

"We cannot cut costs any more without really jeopardizing the service that you see," said Paige Townsend, RVTD senior planner and support services manager. "We cut back as much as we could on the non-operating side of RVTD."

Townsend said the group has held community meetings and conducted surveys to see what is important to ridership. They found Saturday service and improving service for youth and college students among respondents' top priorities.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Correction - Originally, this story incorrectly stated evening service would also be restored. That has been corrected in this version.

People wait to catch the bus Tuesday at the Rogue Valley Transportation District depot on South Front Street in Medford. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta