Financial Problems: Top 1971 News Story
Most major news stories during 1971 were of a continuing nature, and in some cases lasted for the entire year. None of the top 10 stories were for spot news, and most were interwoven.
The staff members of the Mail Tribune's news department were asked to select their choices for the top 10 stories of the year. Their top votes went to five different stories, illustrating the variety of events during the year.
Financial problems experienced by all entities in the county--from the smallest to the largest--received eight votes for being the major news story. Of the 18 news staff members voting, 17 placed the financial crisis among the top five news stories.
Looked to New SourcesIn an effort to raise more revenue, governing bodies looked to new sources. Medford started talking about a motel-hotel tax; Ashland discussed, then rejected, an entertainment tax; Jackson County delayed any action on the vehicle fee levy (enabling legislation had been passed by the Oregon Legislature) until more interest was shown by the cities. Medford and Phoenix rejected the levy, Ashland approved it, Talent tabled any action. The matter will be referred to the voters this year, since an initiative referendum was successful statewide. (The levy provides for $10 on motor vehicles, revenue split between county and cities.)
Medford, Ashland, Talent and Butte Falls challenged federal census figures and had recounts. Resulting population increases means additional revenue from the state.
Medford [city] council, concerned over the city's financial situation, named a Revenue Realignment Committee. The proposed "tax" on city court fines, approved by the city council, was vetoed by the mayor. The council overruled the veto.
Medford residents went to the polls to vote on city finances--the first time in many years.
Welfare and Colleges AffectedThe Jackson County Welfare Commission had to make adjustments earlier in the year due to increased costs. Southern Oregon College--at the year's end--was seeking ways to cut its budget due to less income.
As residents rebelled against higher property taxes several bond issues went down--West Medford Trunk District within the Bear Creek Valley Sanitary Authority; Medford's parks and recreation--as well as operating budgets for school districts, BCVSA and fire districts.
Financial problems and the economy, a close second, were the only news stories which received votes from all 18 staffers.
The economy, 1970's top news story in Jackson County, recovered during 1971. The percentage of unemployment (10.4 percent in January) reached a two-year low (5.1 percent in October) as construction activity picked up and a large pear crop was harvested. The Manpower Emergency Act financed more than 100 jobs in the county.
Construction Activity IncreasedNew construction in the county included businesses--13 restaurants were being built at one time--Pacific Power and Light Company moved into its new building on West Main Street and the old Copco Building next door was razed, work started on a $1.66-million medical building and several large apartment complexes. Kmart opened its doors in Medford, while the Ashland Shopping Center and Bi-Mart opened in Ashland.
One of the major projects was reconstruction of the runways, taxiways and aprons at the Medford-Jackson County Airport, closing the facility to jets for several weeks.
Other stories picked as the top story of the year were drugs, BCVSA and Ashland City Council approving the detain and search ordinance.
The top vote getters--financial problems and the economy--were followed by drugs, 17 votes; BCVSA, 16; Mercy Flights, Inc., 15; Mrs. Richard Nixon's visit tied with pollution, 13 each; parks, 12; schools, 9; and Medford city activities, 6.
More Become Aware of DrugsAs cases involving drugs increased, more and more persons became aware of the problem. Medford Mayor William A. Singler, responding to "a priority item for which nothing has been done," initiated a strict law enforcement program, Operation Denial, to combat drug use in the city. The program included Code-A-Phone for receiving confidential information and a crackdown on hitchhiking. "Concerned citizens" united to initiate a second program, Citizens For Awareness, as a supplement. The city's councilmen got involved by voting to assist Open Door, a drug crisis center, in finding a new location ([a] city-owned house), and by establishing [the] Medford Drug Commission.
At the same time officials took another look at problems dealing with alcohol--the county establishing an Alcoholism Council and Medford a detoxification center. Plans were announced for a recovery house.
Aside from finances, the Bear Creek Valley Sanitary Authority had some good news. Its interceptor was completed--27 miles of line.
The board hired a new manager, Andrew Valachovic Jr., and at the end of the year Mrs. Curtis (Bereth) Hopkins, one of the original directors of BCVSA, did not seek reelection. Her last year on the board was as its chairman.
But finances continually popped up during the year. It took four tries to pass the authority's operating budget, then the bond issue to finance the West Medford Trunk District was defeated by a 7 to 1 margin.
Detain and SearchIn Ashland, while some questioned the proposed detain and search ordinance's constitutionality, the council's tie vote was broken by Mayor McKeen, putting it on the books. The ordinance allows police to stop any person in a public place if he has reasonable grounds to suspect or is about to commit a crime.
Mercy Flights, Inc., the unique non-profit air ambulance service started in Medford in 1949, was the center of attention of the Federal Aviation Administration in October. A hearing was held here to determine if the air ambulance service should be designed an air taxi, thereby restricting its operations, especially to the small rural airports. A ruling was being awaited as the year closed.
Mrs. Richard Nixon's visit to Jackson County highlighted the President's Legacy of Parks program. She officially transferred more than 400 acres of old Camp White land to Jackson County for use as a park. Another official also passed through the area with recreation lands in mind. Secretary of Interior Rogers C. B. Morton accepted a deed from Pacific Power and Light Company for 159 acres of land at Hellgate on the Rogue River in Josephine County as part of the Wild River area.
Eliminate PollutionEcology--and its opposite, pollution--first made the top 10 list in 1970. Efforts to eliminate pollution continued through 1971, and progress was noted.
Several wigwam burners were phased out along with burning at the fire pit at White City; county sanitarians started red-flagging sewer violations, and Jerry Lausmann, Medford lumberman, received a U.S. patent on a process which traps air pollutants in wigwam burners.
Medford started using its new sewage treatment plant, which it had named for Vern Thorpe, a longtime head of the city's public works department.
Medford's council adopted a Bear Creek Combining District, the culmination of two years' work. It will preserve and protect the creek. The council was unable to reach an agreement or compromise in the outdoor burning issue.
Recreation and ParksCity and council officials were kept aware of recreation and park needs.
In Ashland the Lithia Park extension was completed, but the city's park director and longtime backer of parks, Jean Eberhart, died before the project was finished. The city decided it was too small to operate a zoo and voted to phase out the Lithia Park Zoo. However, its deer herd remained, and residents were incensed at the killing of a park-raised buck--the reward for information about the death exceeded $1,000. The park's pair of black swans died, one due to an automobile accident.
Although Medford's parks and recreation bond and levy was defeated at the polls, the city dedicated Ruhl Park, the children's play area of Bear Creek Park, Howard School Park and Fagone Field.
Bought Britt PropertyJackson County established a Parks Trust Fund, plans were started on a Sportsman's Park on the former Camp White land, and substantial increases were noted in county park use.
Getting voters' approval of operating budgets for the school districts didn't improve in 1971 over 1970. In School District 549C, however, the final vote was too late for the October mailing of the tax statements, so landowners in that district received not one, but two, statements for 1972.
But public schools were not the only ones to experience financial difficulties. St. Mary's High School, faced with a substantial deficit, announced plans to close. A citizens committee came to its aid, and with the archdiocese's permission reopened this fall as a private school not under the jurisdiction of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish.
Controversial SituationsThe City of Medford, with new faces on its council, encountered several controversial situations during the year, several of which are yet to be resolved. Issues ranged from rock concerts, billboards and drugs to horseback riding, pollution, water rates and new "taxes."
Billboard signs came down along the freeway viaduct, although the case regarding them against the city is still pending. Medford won its first court test of the city's 1966 zoning ordinance; the Water Commission came out on top in a circuit court case with the City of Central Point regarding water rates; adopted a Bear Creek Combining District as an addition to the zoning ordinance to control pollution; and councilmen voiced opposition to future use of city parks for rock concerts after two such events resulted in numerous complaints. Among the complaints was use of drugs.
Horseback RiderConcerned for the safety of motorist and horseback riders, the council approved an ordinance prohibiting horseback riding on city streets, only to reconsider the action when horse enthusiasts opposed the new law. A compromise was reached, and a new ordinance was voted.
In an effort to raise new revenue the city's new Revenue Realignment Committee recommended a "tax" on city court fines and a 5 percent motel-hotel tax. The council approved the court fine tax, only to have it vetoed by the mayor. The council overrode the veto.
Mayor Singler initiated a strict law enforcement program to combat drug use in the city, and after phases of it drew strong criticism from some residents, a second program was started to supplement the mayor's plan.
Other StoriesSeventeen other stories received votes as major news happenings of the year:
--Festivals attracted many--154,777 attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland (it got a new producing director, Dr. Jerry Turner); Children's Festival attended by more than 6,000; Britt Music Festival is heard by 7,600 in Jacksonville (county buys Britt property for $40,000); and Pear Blossom Festival in Medford called one of the best.
Dr. A. Erin Merkel, county public health officer for 34 years, retired and Dr. Hugh Dierker was hired to head the department. The health department clamped down on sewer violations, made efforts to stem hepatitis (142 cases reported, up from 59 in 1970) and discontinued free shots to foreign travelers as [the] department concentrated on services for major population needs.
Long-Range Plans--Hearings were held on long-range plans for Crater Lake National park, Oregon Caves National Monument, and Sky Lakes Zone in Rogue River and Winema national forests. First year of one-way traffic around Crater Lake's rim called successful.
--Concern over fish in the Rogue River reached Washington, D.C., where Congress approved a bill providing for a study of the Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River, part of the Grants Pass Irrigation District facilities. In other attempts to preserve natural resources the Forest Service expands logging by helicopter.
--Omar Bacon, librarian for the past 11 years, was dismissed and Hardin Smith hired to succeed him.
Crime News--Crime continued to make news. Five persons were killed, with first-degree murder indictments returned in each case. Awaiting trial are two teenagers in connection with the September shooting of an elderly Trail couple and a White City man charged with stabbing of a woman in the restroom of a local motel. The other two deaths occurred in Central Point and at the Veterans Administration Domiciliary. The two charged in connection with these deaths were acquitted.
A fire extensively damaged the insurance office of State Rep. Donald Stathos, and a resident was found guilty of second-degree arson.
Litigation Continues--National Association to Keep and Bear Arms continued to feud with the Association to Preserve Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Three members of the national group charged in March with misdemeanor of pointing firearm at another--drawn-out litigation.
--Highway post office between Ashland and Portland had its last run Sept. 30. It was the last one in the 13 western states.
--Politics, which most likely will be among the top 10 stories in 1972, was well down the list in 1971. However, Rep. Stathos, Jacksonville, announced plans to enter the state treasurer race; Gov. Tom McCall and Sen. Wayne Morse talk about the Senate race during visits here; and national candidates--Sen. Henry Jackson and Sen. George McGovern--visit.
--Fatalities, 30 in traffic accidents, totaled 46. (Two persons plead guilty to charges of negligent homicide in connection with two of the traffic accidents.) There were also two off-highway motor vehicle accidents, one died in a house fire, two asphyxiated, two were accidentally shot, four died in farm or home accidents, two drowned, two died in accidents on the job, and one was electrocuted.
--Fires during the summer blackened many acres of brush and grass land, the Double Dee Sawmill burned, and in Medford Weiler-Olds and Clint's Appliance were destroyed.
Record Enrollment--Southern Oregon College had record enrollment, but it was short of anticipated figures, adding to its financial problems; work continued on the student union building; the music building was completed; efforts were started to save the Swedenburg House; and the Wagon Theater held in the park was termed a success.
--Ashland received national attention on the NBC News, causing an influx of inquiries about settling there.
--Oregon State Police Cpl. Dale Clough was shot and wounded in an incident north of Central Point.
--Weather made news when the mercury reached 109 degrees in Medford on Aug. 11 to set a new record high for the city; several daily lows set records; and the Weather Service increased its range and efficiency with Mt. Ashland Radar Station coming on line.
--Strikes occurred in a variety of fields. Garbage went uncollected in January when drivers (Teamsters) struck City Sanitary Service; building slowed at various times when plumbers, painters and carpenters walked off the job. Others included telephone workers, Airwest Airlines mechanics and Western Union.
--Jackson County Home Rule Committee was formed.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 2, 1972, page C1
Last revised April 9, 2010