Beware of shifting tax revenue

If voters approve the Heritage District levy this November, giving 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to historical societies, will the collected taxes again go into the county's general fund? Considering the 25 cents per $1,000 voters approved in 1948 was absorbed into the county budget and no longer used to fund such societies, what guarantee do taxpayers have that this won't happen again? Incidentally, I am in favor of the measure but concerned.

— Margaret B., Eagle Point

Well, Margaret, little in life is certain, so we can't say with certainty that the funds couldn't be shifted at some future date. But that would occur only if some new legislation mandated or allowed it.

Your concerns are based on fact: Ballot Measure 50, approved by voters in 1996, limited property taxes and required a double majority (which was overturned by voters in 2008) before a new local tax measure could be approved. Tucked away in the pages of legalese describing the measure was a zinger that went unnoticed by most: For local governments, all existing levies would be rolled into one general fund levy.

That meant Jackson County could take the money approved for historical preservation and libraries and do with as it wished. And the Jackson County commissioners did just that, cutting off funding for local historical societies and reducing library funding to the point that libraries are open only a few days a week (and they've just announced libraries likely will once again be on the chopping block).

Measure 50 rolled all "existing" levies under the umbrella of a local government into a single general fund levy, effective in 1997. But it allowed local levies for specific purposes to be placed on the ballot in future elections and those new levies would be exempt from the Measure 50 roll-up. So the Rogue Valley Heritage District levy is safe, for now.

But best to sleep with one eye open, Margaret. The combination of politicians and money often creates a dangerous brew.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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