Ashland group is one step closer to countywide historical district

ASHLAND — City Council members have given supporters of a countywide historical district the go-ahead to collect signatures to put a new levy on the ballot to provide long-term funding for regional preservation efforts.

If approved by voters, the proposal would authorize a property tax of up to 7 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation to create a Jackson County Heritage Association, which would provide funding for the Southern Oregon Historical Society and 14 smaller preservation groups.

At its maximum level, the levy would add $10.50 to the property tax bill of a house assessed at $150,000 for tax purposes. The levy would generate about $1 million annually for the historical district in 2009-10, supporters have said.

Ashland Mayor John Morrison noted Friday that the city is "not even close" to the cap on the combined total of property taxes the city may impose under state law. Ashland's total tax is about $5 per $1,000 assessed value below the levy cap, he said.

"But whenever you are talking tax money there is a concern," Morrison said. "In this particular case, I think voters will determine if seven cents is a problem for them."

The Ashland City Council's decision earlier this week to allow signature gathering to get the levy on the November ballot follows similar moves by councils in Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent.

Each of the county's 11 cities will be asked if they wish to be a part of the proposed heritage district. In each jurisdiction where the city council votes to be a part of the proposed heritage district, supporters would need to collect valid signatures from 15 percent of registered voters, or about 15,000 signatures across Jackson County, to get the levy on the ballot.

Councilwoman Cate Hartzell said she was tempted to vote against the measure along with Councilwoman Alice Hardesty, the only council member to oppose the measure.

Hartzell said there were concerns among some of the council members that the historical levy might be approved by voters to the detriment of subsequent levy proposals for such things as libraries and regional transportation projects.

"Even so, I didn't think that it was appropriate for us to block it," Hartzell said. "I believe the sentiment by-and-large on the council was to make sure voters in Ashland had an opportunity to vote for it, and that we extended a measure of support for the countywide effort."

Councilwoman Kate Jackson, in an earlier interview, noted that unlike fees, property taxes are deductible on federal income tax returns.

The proposed $1 million levy would help pay for maintenance on several county-owned buildings that rest in the hands of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, including the former county courthouse and adjoining jail in Jacksonville.

Voters approved a historical levy of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 1948, but it was lost in 1997, when Oregon voters approved Measure 50, which folded counties' existing special levies into a permanent tax rate.

Faced with declining revenues from federal timberlands and rising expenditures, Jackson County commissioners began reducing appropriations for the Southern Oregon Historical Society and the smaller preservation groups several years ago. The county made its last payment to the historical societies in April 2007.

During the 2007 session of the Legislature, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, co-sponsored legislation that allows the formation of heritage districts to fund historic preservation.

Chris Rizo covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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