Library, Extension ballot measures headed to public hearings

Public hearings are all that stand between proposals to create tax districts to fund Jackson County libraries and the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center and the May 2014 ballot.

All 11 Jackson County cities have agreed to let their respective communities be included in the vote for a special district to fund the 15 library branches and a service district to fund the Extension.

"We do have all of the petitions," Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor said.

The public hearings for the Extension proposal are set for Jan. 8 and 29 at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium. Library public hearings are set for Feb. 12 and March 5.

If approved for the ballot and then by voters, the library district would fund libraries by taxing 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That's $120 a year for a $200,000 home. The tax would generate about $9 million a year, eliminating the need for support from the county's general fund and bringing hours back to pre-2007 shutdown levels. Following the April 2013 budget hearings where the county labored to close a $6.7 million funding gap, officials decided that 14 of the 15 branches — all but Medford — would close by the 2014-15 fiscal year unless alternative funding sources were found. The Medford library would close during the 2015-16 fiscal year if the trend continued.

Maureen Swift, who is involved in helping organize an educational campaign, said she thinks the measure has a shot, but that there is a lot of work to do yet.

"People seem to be a little bit more cognizant of the danger of having libraries close, possibly because they've lived through it all once," Swift said, referring to the six-month shutdown of all libraries after a proposed levy failed at the ballot box. "We're still hopeful."

The service district to fund the Extension would tax homeowners between two and five cents for every $1,000 of assessed value, or between $4 and $10 annually for someone who owns a $200,000 home. Annually, that would raise between $321,000 and $804,000, which would pay for new positions like a 4-H program assistant, Master Gardener and land-steward coordinators, an office assistant, and a property and building manager. Supplies and materials, maintenance, and county fair judges and prizes now paid for by the county also would be covered by the news funds.

"I don't think it's a slam dunk," said Extension director Phil Van Buskirk. "I think we have a lot of work to do to really educate the community as to what we do."

Van Buskirk added that without the local portion of funding, the Extension would likely close by the next fiscal year.

"It could be a do-or-die situation," he said.

— Ryan Pfeil

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