Library supporters are exploring the creation of a special tax district that would keep libraries open in Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Ruch, Jacksonville and the Applegate.
The conceptual "South Valley District" would match the outline of House District No. 5, said Cathy Shaw, a former Ashland mayor and library supporter who prepared voter prediction models that underpin the idea.
The specific rate for taxation and whether the district would be run by its own board or the county's board of commissioners is still being worked out. Other cities could later opt in if they wished.
"Everything is fluid right now. There's nothing cast in concrete," said Chuck Keil, a supporter of the South Valley District idea.
Communities outside the district would still be able to check out materials, but would, in some cases, need to make a lengthy drive to get to the libraries.
Based on voter turnout from the 2010 midterm elections, voter registration numbers from 2012 and the percentage of supporting votes on a failed 2006 library levy, Shaw said she believes a special district would pass in House District No. 5.
"There tends to be more support (for libraries) there," Shaw said, noting that the idea of a special library district is still in its infancy.
Jackson County plans to survey likely voters on such a funding strategy.
"We haven't narrowed down (the questions) yet," said Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor.
Other library officials don't want to write off alternatives such as a levy or countywide district just yet. The county's Library Advisory Committee will meet Monday to have additional discussions about all ideas.
"I think the real concern is a library system that serves the whole county and how we get there," said Bruce McGregor, Jackson County Library Advisory Committee chairman.
The county is seeking a new way to fund libraries in the face of a $6.7 million budget gap for the year, due to declines in federal timber funds, property tax revenue and interest income.
The county put up $5.3 million in rainy day funds and made $1.4 million in cuts to several departments, including the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Development Services, marketing, the Extension Service, libraries and others.
But Budget Committee members said the county cannot continue to draw down its reserves at that rate. Under the adopted budget plan, all 14 branch libraries outside Medford would close by the 2014-15 fiscal year if new funding sources are not found. The Medford library would close in the 2015-16 fiscal year unless new funding is found.
Commission Chairman Don Skundrick proposed an $84 annual surcharge to support Jackson County Jail operations, which would have freed up general fund dollars for departments such as the libraries. The commissioners dropped the idea after a survey of likely voters showed that 57 percent opposed it.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.