Monday, May 21, 2007

Voters reject tax levies in 5 timber counties

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

MEDFORD -- Jackson County voters rejected a new property tax that would have reopened their libraries, as voters in four other timber counties soundly turned back similar tax increases Tuesday.

The 15 library branches in Jackson County were closed last month to address a budget shortfall. The levy, defeated 59 percent to 41 percent, would have raised about $24.9 million over the next three years and had the libraries up and running again by next month.

Library supporters now are looking to the future.

"We have a lot of work to do," said Joe Davis, chairman of the Save Our Library System committee. "We're going to keep fighting for our county." The group spent more than $100,000 on the election and faced no organized opposition.

The measure was one of five tax proposals on county ballots in Oregon to make up for the loss of money that the federal government has paid counties for years to replace reduced timber revenue. In addition to getting a majority of votes, the levies also required a voter turnout of at least 50 percent to pass.

Elsewhere, voters in Coos and Curry counties rejected property tax levies that would have funded public safety programs. The Coos vote was 68 percent to 32 percent. The Curry vote was 67 percent to 33 percent.

Curry County Commissioner Lucie LaBonte said commissioners will meet to cut an additional $600,000 out of the emergency budget. If the federal safety net isn't approved, there will be no more patrol officers beginning July 1, she said.

Lane County residents voted 71 percent to 29 percent to defeat a 1.1 percent income tax to raise $32.5 million annually for public safety. A similar proposal narrowly failed in November.

Commissioners enacted the tax this spring but agreed to put it on the ballot after hearing from constituents.

Even if Congress approves a House proposal to fund the timber payment program for one year, the county will face a long-term budget crisis, said Amber Fossen, Lane County spokeswoman.

But Bob Hooker, director of the opposition group, "We Said No," said there's plenty of waste in the county budget to cut.

"The more we dug into this thing, the more we found hidden," he said.

In Josephine County, voters turned down a property tax increase 59 percent to 41 percent to raise $46.2 million over the next three years to cover full-time sheriff's patrols, the county jail and juvenile detention facility, and county prosecutors.

Some counties continue to hope the state's congressional delegation will come through with some eleventh-hour funding, but such a bail out appears unlikely. Last week, the House passed an emergency spending bill that includes $425 million for a one-year extension of the county payments, but the White House has threatened to veto the bill.

No comments: