At a recent science exhibit at the Medford library, local entomologist John Jackson brought the film "A Bug's Life" to life.
The owner of Bugs R Us displayed his insect collection to the free event's 178 attendees, who were also treated to a buffet of mealworms and dead crickets.
"Not only did we play with live insects, but I fed those patrons bugs, as well," Jackson said Wednesday at a public hearing on whether to put a special library tax district on the May 2014 ballot.
Jackson was one of 11 people who spoke to the county's Board of Commissioners about the issue, and supporters packed the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium.
The county will pay about $5 million of the libraries' $6.2 million budget for 2013-14, but county officials say they can't afford that any longer. During April 2013 budget hearings, officials said that 14 of the 15 library branches — all but Medford's — would close during the 2014-15 fiscal year unless alternative funding sources could be found. The Medford library would close in the 2015-16 fiscal year, they said.
To keep libraries open, supporters proposed a special district. If the proposal makes it to the ballot and is approved by voters, property owners would pay up to 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to fund the libraries. That's $120 a year on a $200,000 house. The tax revenue would generate about $9 million a year, eliminating the need for support from the county general fund and restoring hours to pre-2007 levels, supporters said. A five-person board separate from the commissioners would run the district.
"The formation of a library district is a solution," said Jackson County Library Services Director Kim Wolfe, adding close to 800,000 people access the county's 15 branches each year. "Libraries are an asset."
Supporters such as John Jackson spoke about the benefits of libraries.
"Education is a huge aspect of what I do," Jackson said at the county commission hearing. "The library is a central place for the public to come and learn."
Library offerings go beyond books and reference materials, said Helga Motley, a volunteer with the library's Lego building program.
"It's hands-on learning," Motley said. "It's been an amazing reception."
Other supporters touted libraries as a community asset that offer programs such as computer classes for seniors and resume help.
"It's not just the warehouse of information you remember from our childhoods," said Maureen Swift, of the Friends of the Medford Library. "The libraries have a very crucial role to play."
Utilizing more tax dollars to support the service was a concern for meeting attendee Richard Goble, of Ruch, who lives on a fixed income.
"People out in Ruch, they don't want any more taxes," Goble told the county commissioners, adding he felt 15 libraries in the county was excessive.
"Find another way to get it. We can't take any more as taxpayers."
Another public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12. The commissioners will then decide whether to send the issue to voters.
Results from a survey conducted by the county showed a slim majority of respondents — 52 percent of 500 likely voters — said they would vote for a countywide district.
"We've got a tough battle ahead of us, but I've got confidence we can put this forward and make this work," said Commissioner John Rachor.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.