Town Hall for UR citizens to discuss county funding

This Thursday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. will be an opportunity for Upper Rogue area residents to speak out about future funding ideas for Jackson County. A town hall meeting will be held in the Ashpole Center at the Eagle Point City Hall.
    
This session is one of five being held in the valley and comes after the board of commissioners appointed a committee of 12 residents to study and provide recommendations for long term levels of service and funding for essential services with the significant loss of federal funding.

The Task Force formed four subcommittees to look at human services,
roads, public safety and libraries.  They asked three questions:
   

  • Can citizens live with the cuts made to services during the budget process?

   

  • Should a service level be restored or enhanced?

   

  • If a service is to be restored, what is the most appropriate funding source?

   
Following is a brief summary of each committee’s findings:
   
Public Safety Subcommittee-
   
The
need for jail space was discussed and a $3 per account for resident and
$5 for commercial, $10 for industrial fee was reviewed. It would
produce $3 million annually. They learned that a fee could be
challenged so something such as this should be passed as a tax.
   
Sheriff
patrol and detective numbers were reviewed. National organizations
recommend one officer per 1,000 people. The sheriff’s department
operates with 28 patrol and 36 total officers for 65,000 people in the
unincorporated areas, which has a population of about 65,000.
   
The
committee found there is potential revenue from the collection of a
Public Safety Surcharge.  County council believes that would be
challenged as a tax.
   
District attorneys office handles
27,000 cases annually. The state used to pay for the D.A.’s office .
The committee recommends that plan be revived. They have no suggestions
for long-term financing that would not put a burden on taxpayers.
   
The
committee discussed 911 services and talked about consolidating Medford
with SORC, OSP etc.  They considered the Rainy Day Funds might be used
if PL 106-393 was restored.
   
The committee also considered a
real estate transfer fee of one-half  percent or one percent on
consideration per transaction. They said at one percent it would
generate approximately $23.4 million. It would require an amendment to
current state law and therefore a vote of the majority of Jackson
County voters.
   
Roads Subcommittee-
   
 With the
loss of funds, roads sustained a loss of over $4 million, which is
about a 24 percent reduction from the previous year.  Roads needs $6
million additional annually and to fully implement the county’s
transportation modernization plan needs $3.25 million annually and $1.9
million to catch up on deferred projects as well as deferred asphalt
overlay projects and equipment purchases over a 10-year period.
   
The
committee finding was a gas tax. It would require a vote and details
would need to be worked out to share the tax with the cities. According
to what the roads department says needs to be done, a tax of at least 3
or 4 cents would be needed. Currently, sales of gasoline are going down
as prices go up and people are using more efficient cars and driving
less.
   
Library Subcommittee-
    The committee listed some options including:
   

  • Operate at current levels- requiring county changing priorities of needs.

   

  • Operate at reduced levels- Explore funding using model of National
    Public Radio. Could close some branches or turn over buildings to
    county.

   

  • Operate with local
    option levies- Income tax or sales tax is permissible, requires vote
    and in case of income tax a tax code. One percent sales tax would raise
    about $17.8 million. Fees are permissible but they cannot be a barrier
    to service of a "public" library.

   

  • Create a service district- Funding source property tax, system development charges (SDCs), user fees, so forth.

   

  • Create 190 intergovernmental agency- Funding would come from member
    fees and revenue bonds. The committee reprted that the history of this
    sharing of authority and expenses among local government has often
    proven divisive. Sharing a common resource without total buy in is
    inherently unfair.

   

  • School libraries partnership- Would require a 190 agreement. School libraries have a different mission than public libraries.

   

  • Privatize library service delivery- Not yet a common practice so no track record to draw from.

   

  • Create and operate through a special district- Special districts are
    independent of the county. Ideally there would be a countywide special
    district, comprised of several regions within the county to reflect
    regional values and concerns. But if some cities chose not to join they
    could do so at a later date. Funding could be from property tax,
    general obligation and revenue bonds.

   
Health and Human Services subcommittee:
   
Crisis
care is and has been a major concern in Jackson County. A study group
has form over the last year to determine how to serve the needs. Its
mandate was to develop plans for a response system that could
effectively respond to crises resulting from psychiatric and substance
abuse disorders. A crisis/access center as the first point of contact
for individuals and families in acute distress is needed. That center
could provide a wide range of needed services and then ongoing care
would need to be established to prevent another revolving door.
   
The
committee reported that very significant cost shifting could occur with
the establishment of a crisis care project. Reductions in emergency
room visits, acute hospital stays, indigent holds, and so on.
   
This
article has provided a brief overview of needs and possible solutions.
The public is asked to come to the Sept. 27 meeting to listen and to be
heard.
   
The Town Halls are presented by League of Women
Voters of Ashland and of the Rogue Valley, American Association of
University Women Ashland and Medford, Citizens for County Solutions.
The Eagle Point meeting is co-sponsored by the Upper Rogue Independent.

By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent

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