Worried that residents haven't had much of a say in how to help solve Jackson County's funding crisis, a coalition of civic organizations will hold a series of town-hall meetings aimed at "helping to build clarity and trust."




Organizers say the public forums will help build on the efforts of the Task Force on Jackson County Services, the 13-member nonpartisan panel charged by the county commissioners with developing long-range solutions to the county's funding woes caused in part by the absence of federal timber subsidies.




"There needs to be more openness, more dialogue and more education on both sides," said Lynn Howe, a spokeswoman for Citizens for County Solutions, a group that includes local chapters of the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.




The first of the five forums, to be moderated by former Jefferson Public Radio talk-show host Jeff Golden, is scheduled for noon on Sept. 20 at the Ashland Elks Lodge.




"This is going to be an opportunity for the commissioners to sit and listen and learn, and an opportunity for citizens to speak out," said Howe, a retired nurse administrator, who moved to Medford earlier this year from Michigan.




Paulie Brading, a member of the Medford AAUW and a member of the three-member town-hall organizing committee, said the need for the forums grew out of residents' frustrations with the county commissioners' efforts to bridge the revenue shortfall.




"The public is impatient and is forming its own groups," Brading said. "All of us are affected by the funding crisis and people are eager to help find solutions."




Brought on by Congress' failure to reauthorize the $425 million a year Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act that expired last year, the county's $23 million cash crunch left library doors shuttered and has moved road construction projects to the back burner.




Task Force Member Shayne Maxwell of Gold Hill has said without increased revenues, whether through increased taxes or fees, deeper cuts to county services might be necessary, including reductions to such programs as vector and weed abatement, animal control services and snow removal.




One proposal to bridge the shortfall is a countywide, 3.8 percent sales tax that would generate an estimated $51 million, according to rough calculations.




The proposal, which County Commissioner Dave Gilmour said he would support so long as it's not a "stand-alone tax," would raise much-needed revenues by taxing the underground economy, tourists and Californians who cross the border to take advantage of Oregon's sales tax-free shopping.




Medford Fabrication is helping to underwrite the town hall series, organizers said.




covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. You can reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.