Jackson County's library saga received some positive news this week after the building project came in $800,000 under budget, lowering the bill for taxpayers.

Jackson County's library saga received some positive news this week after the building project came in $800,000 under budget, lowering the bill for taxpayers.

In 2000, voters passed a $38.9 million bond measure to rebuild 14 library branches across the county, including the downtown Medford library that dominates a large swath of South Riverside Avenue.

That passage was followed by years of turmoil, as the county struggled, and failed for months, to keep the doors open.

The libraries have reopened with reduced hours under the management of a private contractor. Learning the project was delivered under budget was more good news, Jackson County Senior Deputy Administrator Harvey Bragg said.

"We were keeping track of the projects and were aware they could come in under budget," Bragg said. "We were as conservative as possible."

The remaining $800,000 balance will be moved into the library debt service funds, which will allow the county to reduce the amount of property taxes needed to pay off the bonds.

"Property owners will see a reduced tax this year," Bragg said.

Because the money came from a dedicated bond, it cannot be used for extended library services such as increased hours or buying more books.

"We can't legally put the money into staffing or other services," Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith said. "These funds must be used on construction or else it would be a violation."

Bragg said the county could have used the money for additional improvements to the buildings but instead decided to lessen the tax load.

The library system has experienced several financial jolts since the bond measure passed 10 years ago. The libraries closed April 6, 2007, after the federal government failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act to provide financial support for counties that depended on federal timber for income.

After Congress passed a one-year extension that brought $23 million to Jackson County, the county decided to outsource the operation of libraries. Because of limited funding, libraries opened for roughly half the hours they previously kept. Some communities have raised extra money to keep libraries open longer.

By handing operations over to Library Systems and Services LLC, based in Maryland, the county saved $24 million in its general fund costs.

In addition, the library bonds were refinanced at lower interest rates, which lowered bond payments by $2.1 million.

Smith praised Bragg's work during the library projects, saying he kept a close watch on the contractors who worked on the buildings.

"(Bragg) monitored those projects every step of the way," Smith said. "He did a lot of the groundwork and was very diligent keeping the work on time."

Smith said it took a lot of work to set the libraries on a somewhat sustainable path over the past three years.

"Our libraries are open," Smith said. "We know they aren't open as much as some of our citizens would like, but we are working on seeing how we can make that happen sometime in the future."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or cconrad@mailtribune.com.