County considers housing surcharge to help jail

Jackson County's Board of Commissioners will measure the popularity of a proposed monthly housing surcharge intended to generate $6.8 million in general-fund dollars for the 2013-14 budget and increase financial stability in coming years.

The county plans to survey residents about their thoughts on the proposed ordinance's latest draft. If there is overwhelming support, officials will continue on course. If not, it's likely dead.

"It will give us an indication on the flavor," said Commissioner Don Skundrick, chairman of the board. "We don't want to be spitting in the wind."

Skundrick added that the board does not want to spend the $150,000 to $170,000 required to finance a special election if it's clear the proposed ordinance has no chance at the ballot box.

It's not yet known when the survey period will begin or what methodology will be used to gather the data, county officials said.

Under the proposal, the monthly surcharge would be collected from individual apartments, homes and businesses. The person with the primary right to occupy the dwelling would be responsible, county officials said. Vacant apartments would be the landlord's responsibility.

Transient lodging units at hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts would be exempt.

The proposed surcharge would not exceed $7 — plus any Consumer Price Index increases — for the first five years, and would not exceed $10 plus CPI adjustments in subsequent years. County officials said the surcharge could be reduced or eliminated, depending on new revenues.

All money collected would go the Jackson County Jail, freeing up general fund dollars now spent to operate the facility. It's not yet known how the county would collect the funds.

Skundrick first proposed the surcharge to stave off proposed cuts to numerous county departments, including public safety, health and human services, development services, the Oregon State University Extension Service and the libraries. Commissioners John Rachor and Doug Breidenthal have voiced their reluctance to pass an ordinance that would collect more money from taxpayers, saying they will support it only if a majority of voters say they want it, too.

"I'm not opposed to it as long as it's approved by a vote of the people," Rachor said, adding that without some type of new revenue the county will face drastic cuts. "We want to take care of the situation now while we still have some reserves."

Skundrick said he's not anticipating a landslide of support. But if the proposed measure is presented in the right way, he believes it can garner enough to pass.

"There are some who are going to be absolutely opposed no matter what," Skundrick said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email

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