Ashland voters will get their say on countywide library district

Ashland residents will have a chance to vote on a proposed Jackson County library district in May 2014.

Ashland City Councilors voted unanimously on Tuesday night to put the issue on the ballot.

"It's definitely worth having our citizens have a voice on this," Councilor Greg Lemhouse said.

If Ashland did not vote on the issue, the city would not be included in the library district if it is approved and the county could close Ashland's library branch, said Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick.

Funding the library system is the county's second costliest general fund expenditure — after public safety, which includes the sheriff's department and the district attorney's office, Skundrick said.

The county's budget committee has determined that funding the library system is not sustainable, he said.

Without new funding from a library district or federal payments to the county, the county will shut down all libraries in the county except the main Medford branch in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Skundrick said.

The Medford branch would close the following year, he said.

Jackson County is suffering from drastic reductions in federal payments that are meant to offset revenue lost from logging cutbacks.

County libraries closed in April 2007, then reopened later that year when federal payments were partially restored.

County voters previously have rejected a library district.

Skundrick said the county commissioned a new survey that found county voters are likely to narrowly support a library district in May 2014.

The district would cost a maximum of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The owner of an Ashland home assessed at $250,000 — approximately the median in Ashland — would see a maximum property tax increase of $102.50 if the district is approved.

Normally, the 60 cents per $1,000 charge would cost that owner an extra $150 per year, but the owner is already paying $47.50 annually on a levy previously approved by Ashland voters to supplement library services in town.

If the countywide library district is approved, Ashland will discontinue its supplemental library levy, City Administrator Dave Kanner said.

If the district is rejected by county voters, other options remain for Ashland.

It could contract with the county to continue operating the Ashland branch using the supplemental city levy, Kanner said.

The city levy would provide less than half of the money currently spent each year to keep the Ashland branch running, city officials said.

Currently the city levy supplements hours and services at the library.

"The levy wouldn't purchase anything close to what we have now," Kanner said.

Alternately, Ashland could join with communities like Talent and Jacksonville that have traditionally supported libraries to form its own South Valley Library District.

— Vickie Aldous

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