Southern Oregon county allows residents to opt out of paying library tax

By Jane Vaughan (Jefferson Public Radio)
Dec. 7, 2023 7:09 p.m.

Mike Pelfry and his wife Winnie in Grants Pass, Oregon, say they don’t benefit from the Josephine Community Library despite paying taxes

FILE - In this April 7, 2017, photo, a large display stands in the lawn of the main Josephine County library branch in Grants Pass, Ore.

FILE - In this April 7, 2017, photo, a large display stands in the lawn of the main Josephine County library branch in Grants Pass, Ore.

Gillian Flaccus / AP


On Wednesday, the Josephine County Board of Commissioners approved a petition allowing two residents to opt out of the local library tax district, creating fears of setting a precedent for other taxes.

The Josephine Community Library 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.

Grants Pass resident Mike Pelfry and his wife Winnie submitted a petition in October to have their property removed from the district, eliminating their tax payment to the library. Pelfry is a frequent government critic who ran for the library district board in the spring and lost.

The couple argues that they do not benefit from the library despite paying taxes.

“I do pay taxes to fire, and I do pay taxes for law enforcement. And I do expect that if somebody breaks into my house, they’re gonna come over and they’re gonna make sure that I get the services that I paid for,” Pelfry said. “I doubt very seriously that if I’m not sleeping well at night, I don’t think anybody from the library is gonna come over and read to me.”

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Library tax district established in 2017

Attorney Mike Mayerle, who represents the library, pointed out that the argument is a linguistic one. According to the state statute that outlines the rules for withdrawing property from a district, the question is whether it’s feasible for a property to receive services from the district, not whether it actually does.


“The petition shall be denied if it appears that it is, or would be, feasible for the territory described in the petition to receive service from the district,” the statute reads.

The tax district provided a lifeline for the Josephine Community Library, which had closed in 2007 due to 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.

The meeting drew approximately 20 residents to testify during public comment. Some argued that the couple benefits from the library because it increases their property value, or that the library offers a variety of services that could be utilized, including audio books, internet, and classes.

Mayerle said he’s concerned about the precedent this decision could set.

“Are we gonna do this year-to-year, whether you want to…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.

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Debate among county commissioners

Commissioner Dan DeYoung said he was also concerned about establishing a precedent. He was the lone dissenter in the final vote. Board Chair Herman Baertschiger and Commissioner John West voted to support the petition.

The commissioners debated what they said is a lack of clarity in the state statue and whether the library provides services to the property itself or to the people who own the property.

Baertschiger pointed out that residents can petition to be annexed into the library district if they choose to.

“If we give the ability and the freedom and the choice to opt in, why wouldn’t we give the freedom and choice to opt out?” he said.

The commissioners eventually approved the petition 2-1.

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