Council caps levy

Interviews of former Ashland Librarian Amy Blossom, City Councilor Russ Silbiger and County Commissioner C. W. Smith by .

The ballot may say $.58 per thousand dollars of assessed property value, but Ashland property owners will only be taxed $.20 per thousand this fiscal year after the Ashland City Council decided to cap a potential tax levy that will be used to augment library services.

Concerned that the local tax levy could be defeated following news that Jackson County will re-open the 15 area libraries for about half the previous hours of operation using a private company from Maryland, the council decided to reduce the amount it could tax.

"If the county is going to open up half a library, then half a levy will make it whole again," said Pam Vavra, a library supporter who is actively campaigning for the levy.

Ashland plans to use the tax money to increase hours of operation. Under the plan Jackson County is working out with Library Systems and Services, the Ashland Library would be open for approximately 24 hours a week. The $.20 would allow the Ashland Library to be opened for 40 hours per week, plus provide a living wages for full-time employees and contract monitoring between the county and LSSI.

Frequently Asked Questions —

Q. Will the library ever be open again? A. Yes. Jackson County is currently negotiating a contract with Library Systems and Services, a private company from Maryland, to re-open the 15 county libraries, including the one in Ashland, by Nov. 1. — Q. If the county is opening the Ashland Library, why should I support a tax levy? — A. Under the plan Jackson County is working out with LSSI, the Ashland Library would be open approximately 24 hours a week. Before the closure it was open 40 hours a week. The Ashland property tax levy would augment the LSSI proposal to maintain a 40-hour-per-week schedule. The levy, if passed, would also provide a living wage ($25,000 a year) for full-time employees. — Q. My ballot says I could be taxed $.58 per thousand dollars of assessed property, but the Ashland City Council says it will only take $.20 per thousand the first year and $.25 per thousand the second year. Why is there a discrepancy? — A. The Ashland City Council decided to ask residents to vote on a tax levy before Jackson County announced it may re-open libraries. The $.58 per thousand would have paid for the city to run its own library. Because Jackson County has a tentative plan, the council reduced the levy amount to $.20 per thousand in the first year to augment services. — Q. What does $.20 per thousand dollars of assessed property mean to me? — A. If the levy passes, property owners will owe $.20 for every one thousand dollars of real estate they own, at the assessed value. Assessed value of real estate is lower than the market value. The average assessed value for a home in Ashland is $207,000. If you own a home assessed at this figure, you would owe $41.40 in property taxes. You can find out the value of your home by calling the Jackson County assessors office, and then multiply that figure by .20. — Q. Can Ashland use this tax levy for anything else besides the library? — A. No. The ballot language prevents it. — Q. Are either the county plan, or the Ashland tax levy, long-term solutions for area libraries? No. The county plans to sign a one-year contract with LSSI, with an option to extend it for additional years. The Ashland tax levy would expire after two years.

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Mayor John Morrison said the levy reduction &

which was approved on Tuesday night, after the ballots have already been mailed out &

was an attempt "to be as prudent as possible" while "dealing with inadequate and changing information."

He added, "What went onto the ballot was the best figure we had at the time. Ashland jumped into this and said we feel [the current situation] is unacceptable."

When the council first decided to put the tax levy on the September ballot, Jackson County had yet to announce it was working to re-open the libraries. At first, the council planned to use the levy to open the Ashland Library itself. But since Jackson County announced its intentions, the council decided to use the levy to augment those services.

With the new potential tax being set $.20 per thousand dollars of assessed real estate value in the first year of the levy, and capped at $.25 per thousand in the second year, the owner of the average-priced property in Ashland ($207,000 - assessed value is lower than market value) would pay $41.40 the first year, and $51.75 in the second year. The council increased the amount for year two in case costs arise that have yet to be considered. Because Jackson County has yet to finalize a contract with LSSI, base hours of operation could still change.

"We won't know where the hours [of operation] go until the contract has been finalized," City Administrator Martha Bennett said, noting that, in Ashland as in other locations, they could go up or down. "Half the people will have voted by then.

She said she expects Councilor Russ Silbiger tried to cap the levy the previous week at $.27 per thousand. Prior to the Tuesday night meeting he said, "Voters are weary of a $.58 ballot measure when the county is already opening libraries."

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