Ashland librarians say they can only "hope" local voters chose to extend a property tax levy that has helped their branch stay a cut above the rest since Jackson County rolled back funding for library services in 2007.
The extra revenue would keep the Ashland library operating 40 hours a week — 16 hours more than any other library branch in the county — while also funding additional employees and extra services for teens, seniors and children.
"It allows us to have a lot more outreach services that the other libraries are not able to do," said Ashland branch manager Amy Blossom. "We get out to the YMCA, day cares "… schools, the senior center and into most other parts of the community."
The library is able to provide more programs in schools and host four story times each week with the extra staffing and hours, she says. Most of the other 14 county libraries host only one to two story times each week.
Volunteers at the Ashland branch also work with library staff to deliver materials to home-bound residents, said reference librarian Amy Kinard. Many senior citizens and disabled people enjoy the library's books, large-print editions, audio books and other materials by taking advantage of the delivery service, she says.
The delivery service would likely be reduced to mail-only, which is what most of the other branches offer, without the extra staff and time required to deal with the volume, Kinard said.
If the levy fails, the library would be open 24 hours a week rather than 40, lose three full-time employees, and be forced to reduce or cut outreach programs for children, teens and seniors, Blossom said.
"Hours translate into access; there would be less access. You can't have story times when you're closed, and you can't have computers for people when you're closed," Kinard said. "I would hope the people vote to extend this measure so that we can continue our open hours "… or we would probably just blend into the county system."
The extra hours also help the library stay relevant as a community meeting place, and allow it to host presentations and organize activity nights for all age groups, Blossom said.
The library employs nine full-time and five part-time employees, who are backed by 60 volunteers, she said.
The levy would cost up to 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The owner of a home assessed at $241,000 — the average in Ashland this year — would pay $50.61 per year if the full amount is levied.
However, the city of Ashland has levied 19 cents of the possible 21 cents in the past. City officials say they will levy only the necessary amount to maintain existing services. The 19-cents levy figure cost $45.79 this year for the owner of a home assessed at $241,000.
Assessed home values average about 40 percent lower than market values because of property tax limits approved by Oregon voters years ago.
The city expects the levy would generate about $400,000 in its first year, increasing by about 3 percent each year, documents show.
The levy is set to expire in the summer of 2013; renewing it would continue the supplemental funding until the summer of 2017.
In September 2007, Ashland voters approved a two-year property tax levy to pay for library services because of reduced county funding. In 2008, a year early, voters renewed the levy currently in place.
The Ashland City Council voted unanimously in July to place the levy's renewal on the November ballot.
"Nothing is a given, we have had a lot of great support, but you never know," Kinard said. "It's an opportunity for people to think about what their local library means to them."
Recent door counts show 500 to 900 people use the library each day, Blossom said.
In September, library users checked out 39,000 items, according to library records.
"We feel very fortunate to be in a town that appreciates its library so much , it's such a literate town, and especially one that understands the value of libraries," Blossom said.
Blossom said she would like to see county libraries pursue more permanent funding solutions collectively, but no effort has been undertaken so far.
"Since we've reopened the county has been pretty clear that they are not going to be adding on to what they are providing," she said. "Looking down the road, we'd like to get more permanent funding for the whole library system."
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.