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County library district on will be on Ashland ballot

May 2014 vote means Ashland residents will have chance to keep city branch open
 Posted: 2:00 AM November 07, 2013

Ashland residents will have a chance to vote on a proposed Jackson County library district in May 2014.

Ashland city councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to put the issue on the ballot.

"It's definitely worth having our citizens have a voice on this," Councilor Greg Lemhouse said.

If Ashland did not vote on the issue, the city would not be included in the library district if it were approved and the county could close Ashland's branch, said Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick.

The 15-branch library system is the county's second costliest general fund expenditure after public safety, which includes the sheriff's department and the district attorney's office, Skundrick said.

The county's budget committee has determined that funding the library system is not sustainable, he said.

Without new funding from a library district or renewal of federal timber payments, the county will shut down all library branches except the Medford branch in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Skundrick said.

The Medford branch would then close the following year, he said.

Jackson County is suffering from drastic reductions in federal payments that were meant to offset revenue lost from logging cutbacks.

County libraries closed in April 2007, then reopened later that year when federal payments were partially restored.

County voters have previously rejected a library district.

Skundrick said the county commissioned a new survey that found county voters are likely to narrowly support a library district in May 2014.

If approved, the district would cost a maximum of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $150 on a home assessed at $250,000, the median in Ashland. The city's supplemental library levy would then be discontinued, City Administrator Dave Kanner said. That levy costs property taxpayers 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $47.50, and adds some hours and services.

If the district is rejected, other options remain for Ashland. It could contract with the county to continue operating the Ashland branch using the supplemental city levy, Kanner said.

The city levy would provide less than half of the money spent each year to keep the Ashland branch running, city officials said.

"The levy wouldn't purchase anything close to what we have now," Kanner said.

Alternately, Ashland could join in with communities such as Talent and Jacksonville that have traditionally supported libraries to form its own south Rogue Valley library district.

Skundrick said all three Jackson County commissioners are committed to getting the countywide library district passed.

"Will it be easy? Absolutely not," he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.


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