MEDFORD &

The Jackson County Budget Committee has approved a plan to reopen the library system that has been closed since April because of budget cuts.




Under the plan, the system would reopen before the end of the year at half the previous cost. But the libraries would only be open half as much.




"It gets our libraries back open," said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "I've never once believed that our libraries wouldn't reopen."




The county closed all 15 of its library branches after it lost $23 million annually from a federal timber payments program. Voters rejected two levies, one last November and one in May, that would have generated $8 million annually to keep the libraries open.




To get the libraries opened, the county has negotiated a budget with Library Systems and Services LLC, a Maryland-based library management company, that works out to $4.3 million a year.




The deal still needs the OK of the Board of Commissioners, but all three of them are on the budget committee that approved the plan Tuesday.




Libraries in Ashland, Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point and Rogue River would be open 24 hours a week. Branches in Gold Hill, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Shady Cove and White City would be open 16 hours a week. Outlying branches in Applegate, Butte Falls, Prospect and Ruch would be open eight hours weekly.




County Administrator Danny Jordan said the money for the libraries would come from the federal timber payments program that was reauthorized for one year after the closure of the libraries.




Jordan said the county won't dip into a $27 million rainy-day fund to pay for libraries, reserving that money to pay for public safety or health services if the county payments program isn't authorized beyond a year.




None of the county officials regarded the proposal as a permanent solution to keep libraries open. Jordan said the county would only have enough money to keep libraries open for three years unless some other revenue source is found.