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Library district has solid support

Funding will be more stable if early results hold
 Posted: 2:00 AM May 21, 2014

Jackson County voters appeared ready on Tuesday to ensure future survival of libraries in Jackson County, backing a new, independently funded and run district in early results by almost 55 percent to 45 percent.

Troubled for years by up-and-down federal funding, closure in 2007 and budget woes at the county level, the library will now have its own district, with the accompanying levy operating and paying for all libraries in the county. The district would begin July 1.

When the first results were released Tuesday, it was passing in a countywide vote by 24,365 to 20,126.

"It was completely awesome," said Cathy Shaw, the campaign manager of Libraries for All. "We'll never have to run another library campaign ever. It's how democracy is supposed to work, not with TV and radio, but with neighbors talking to neighbors. Nothing is as powerful as that. This is how we used to run campaigns."

The library measure would tax property up to 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation and establish a five-member board, independently elected, removing operation oversight and funding from the Jackson County government.

The measure is intended to remove Jackson County libraries from many years of see-saw funding, pushed in large part by reductions in federal funding related to timber harvests.

The new district's board, which was also selected Tuesday, will be Monica Weyhe, former county commissioner Carol Doty, Jill B. Turner, Susan Kiefer and Maureen Swift.

"This is just beyond exciting to have our libraries open and secure now, just amazing," said Swift. "The place (Medford library) just erupted when we saw the first numbers. We had no idea what to expect, what with the large turnout for GMOs. It blew us away."

The new board likely will keep LSSI — Library Systems and Services, on for the one-year remainder of its contract running the system. But, Swift said, there is so much work to do in the near term — negotiating contracts with the county, possibly expanding hours and services — that such larger questions will be dealt with down the road.

"It's just amazing to finally have this freedom," Swift said. "We've been given a big trust by voters."

While the board may set the levy up to 60 cents per thousand, "we're absolutely not going to 60 cents," she said. "The responsible thing is to look at costs over the first year." With property values rising again, "we may not have to look at increases in the rate," she added, noting there has to be room for cost-of-living increases for employees.

"I'm really thrilled," said Bruce McGregor, chairman of the county's Library Advisory Committee.

McGregor said LSSI, which manages the libraries, is doing a good job, is skilled at management and should continue in that capacity, as the new board is not prepared to step into that role.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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