Jefferson Public Radio
A decision by the Josephine County Board of Commissioners two weeks ago could set a precedent for voter-approved districts across the county.
The Josephine Community Library District is pursuing legal action after the county’s Board of Commissioners allowed a couple to opt out of the library’s tax district last week in an unprecedented decision.
On Dec. 6, the commissioners allowed a Grants Pass couple, Mike Pelfry and his wife, Winnie, to have their property removed from the district, meaning they no longer have to pay that tax. The couple argued their property does not benefit from the library.
Now, according to the agenda for this week’s meeting, four more residents are asking to have their properties removed from the district as well.
Rachele Selvig, the library district’s board president, said these withdrawals could have financial consequences for the library, adding that she thinks this effort is an attempt to shut libraries down by defunding them.
“The library is not flush. It’s obviously dealing with issues all the time regarding funding. We do a lot of fundraising to help support a lot of the library as well. So the more that withdraw, the more of an impact it is going to have,” she said.
The district was created by voters in 2017. It provides funds for the library through an additional property tax of $0.39 per $1,000 of assessed value. The district spans areas of the Illinois Valley, Williams and Wolf Creek, as well as Grants Pass and Cave Junction in Southern Oregon.
It provided a lifeline for the Josephine Community Library, which had closed in 2007 due to a lack of funding. Residents had voted down both a tax district and a levy to fund the library before finally approving this district in 2017.
In their discussion last week, the commissioners expressed confusion about the state statute that outlines the rules for withdrawing property from a district. They debated what they said is a lack of clarity in the statute and whether the library provides services to the property itself or to the people who own the property.
Now, attorneys for the library, which is represented by Hornecker Cowling, are working on filing an injunction to stop these withdrawals from occurring.
They’re also asking the Josephine County Circuit Court to interpret that state statute.
Selvig is concerned about the precedent this decision might set for special districts around the county, including the recently approved law enforcement service district.
“My real concern, too, is that this is really a way to undermine what people vote for. People vote for these districts. And now all of a sudden, people can pick and choose what districts they want to belong to, regardless of what their neighbors have voted for,” she said.
The statute covers 28 types of districts, including water control, fire, hospital and water.
Attorney Mike Mayerle, who represents the library, had raised a similar question at last week’s meeting.
“Are we gonna do this year to year, whether you want to be opt in, opt out? If you have your grandchildren come up, can you opt in for a day, pay a day’s worth of tax, and then use the library?” he said.
Mayerle, the commissioners and other representatives for the library did not respond to requests for comment.