Fifteen Jackson County libraries, including the branch in downtown Ashland, will remain closed after voters handily rejected a county-wide property tax hike that would have re-opened the recently shuttered library system.

"My mind couldn't grasp it," said Amy Blossom, an out-of-work Ashland librarian who worked on the campaign to re-open the libraries. "The bottom line is people don't want to pay taxes. We're not used to paying for this service."

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The vote wasn't that close as 58 percent of voters, 33,852 in total, voted against the levy that would have generated $8.2 million for the financially strapped libraries. Forty-one percent of voters, or 24,253 people, voted for the levy that would have increased Jackson County residents' taxes by $.66 per thousand dollar of assessed property.

Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour was not surprised by the loss.

"Frankly, it's not all that unexpected," he said. "We're in the early stages of a recession. People are feeling the crunch in terms of taxes. A lot of people I talked to were saddened they couldn't support this, but they are feeling the pinch. It was a much larger margin than I expected."

He said Southern Oregon, like the country, is slipping into a recession, and more cuts to services are likely in the future.

"Libraries are a canary in the coal mine," he said. "What's happening in southwestern Oregon is the first stages of what's going to happen in the rest of the country. The libraries are just one more casualty of the Iraq War."

The libraries closed their doors on April 6. Jackson County Commissioners had no backup funding once Congress let expire the Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act that helped fund several county programs, such as libraries and public service, through logging revenues. Jackson County voters have now voted twice to not fund the libraries through a property tax increase.

Blossom was surprised that the election results so closely resembled the vote on a similar measure to fund county libraries in November.

"I thought we had done so much education that the numbers wouldn't reflect what happened in November," she said. "Obviously something could have been done differently."

County Commissioner Jack Walker was not surprised by the levy's defeat, which he tried to keep off the ballot.

"I think it speaks clearly that voters didn't change that much percentage-wise since the November vote," he said. "I think people need to understand how much people are willing to pay in property taxes. As long as people are not willing to do anything different but ask the taxpayers for more money [this will be the result]."

Frank Bungay, the 11-year-old Willow Wind student who helped stage a sit-in when the libraries closed in April, said he was disappointed in the result.

"I don't really have the money to buy books when I want to read them," he said. "Now that the library is closed for good I'm going to have to start a book lending tree with my friends."

The Ashland City Council has previously discussed funding options to take over control of its branch. The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee will meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St., to look at city options for funding the Ashland Public Library. The meeting is open to the public.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .