Committee seeks permanent library solution

Although the library doors are open, members of the citizen library advisory ad hoc committee are still searching for ways to make sure to keep it that way.

The city has charged the committee with finding a permanent funding solution for the Ashland Public Library and getting it on the ballot for the November 2008 election.

"It's an extremely tight timeline," said Pam Vavra, who chairs the committee. "No matter what we do has to be done quickly."

The committee is still in the information gathering stage, and they have cast a wide net for resources. Two weeks ago, Rep. Peter Buckley attended a brainstorming session about state funding, and on Thursday, they met with Ruth Metz, a state library board consultant who has helped create a dozen of Oregon's 21 independent library districts.

"I wish I could say there is a major push for library funding at the state level, but there isn't," Buckley said. "I think there's going to have to be some sort of creative proposal to fund libraries."

The dilemma facing the committee now is whether to create a separate library district or to ask for a renewal of the two-year levy passed this September and wait to see what the county does in 2010 when the federal funding runs out.

County options

Ashland's elected officials have told the committee they would like to stick with a county-wide library system, Vavra said, because of the breadth of resources available through it.

The county library advisory committee has expressed interest in forming a library district, but not until the year 2010, Vavra said. A library district would by definition have a five-member governing body and a source of funding separate from the general fund.

Vavra also said she had heard Jackson and Josephine Counties were analyzing the possibility of a two-county sales tax to fund libraries and other services.

But because of the record low countywide support, she is not optimistic about those options.

"There is a term we give to people who continue to pursue the same thing over and over again and expect different results, and that word is insane," she said, adding that she felt an effort to create a county-wide district would be "an exercise in futility."

Committee member Sue Burkholder voiced similar concerns.

"I have a real prejudice for county libraries too, but I don't know if it's possible," she said.

Breaking away

The other option is to create either a city-run library or a smaller library district, such as one based on the Ashland and Phoenix-Talent school district boundaries, an area with traditional voter support for library funding. If a smaller district was formed and then the county also wanted to create a district, the smaller district could be dissolved or merged with the county-wide system.

"It's never easy because a district asks the taxpayers to part with more of their discretionary income," Metz said during her visit from Portland. "There aren't more alternatives other than some form of tax."

Under the Oregon constitution, the only source of funding allowed a library district is property taxes. And although it could also receive grants or private donations, a district should expect them to fund no more than 5 percent of the operating budget, Metz said.

Committee member Chuck Keil would like to explore ways to change the property-tax constraint.

"Why can't we get a special district authorization to have a payroll tax?" he asked, similar to the allowance made for mass transit districts. He even suggested they explore the possibility of forming a new, smaller county that would have the options of enacting a sales tax or diverting portions of a gasoline tax, income tax or hotel tax to fund libraries.

"We need to raise money to fund our libraries, and it should be clear to everybody that federal money is not reliably going to be there," he said.

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