Public bus supporters cheered Jackson County voters Tuesday night after they showed their overwhelming support for adding bus routes and avoiding cuts to service.
“When I read off the results to everybody in this room, everybody thought I was talking about the ‘no’ vote,” said Julie Brown, Rogue Valley Transportation District manager. “When I told them they were ‘yes’ votes, they were so excited.”
Results updated about 9:22 p.m. Tuesday showed overwhelming approval for a five-year property tax levy to expand and improve RVTD services.
Measure 15-141, which would tax Jackson County property owners 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $26 a year on a $200,000 house, was passing 61.58 percent, or 22,826 votes, to 38.42 percent, or 14,239 votes. Taxpayers currently pay about 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for RVTD services.
Brown said supporters talked extensively about the issues surrounding bus service with the community.
“If they hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t have passed,” Brown said.
The levy would collect an estimated $1.78 million in the first year. About 62 percent of the funds would help erase a $1 million annual deficit, which RVTD officials said comes from increases in wages, maintenance and health care costs, and a reduction in federal funds. To fill the gap and maintain current service levels, RVTD has been using reserve funds, which they estimate will run out by 2018 without the levy.
Brown said the levy will ensure service levels are maintained over the next five years, as well as added Saturday service, which was cut in 2015. In addition, RVTD plans a bus route to the Rogue Community College campus in White City and one in southwest Medford to service South Medford High.
The tax dollars also will be used to provide more frequent service along Highway 99 through Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland.
RVTD officials also said service to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center would be more frequent if the measure passed.
RVTD board member Tonia Moro said, “We all put a lot of effort into this. It is a really important issue for the community.”
Moro said supporters went to local events such as Art in Bloom to staff tables and pass out literature about the levy, including the impacts to RVTD if it didn’t pass.
“People understand that this is an investment in the community even if they don’t use it themselves,” Moro said. “But they also understand that they might get to a stage in their life where they might use it or that a friend or family member might use it.”
About 1.3 million people use the bus service annually.
The tax will be collected until 2021 and generate close to $9.5 million, according to the Jackson County voters pamphlet.