Library issue spurs debate

With just days left before Tuesday's election, two men with opposing views on the fate of Jackson County's library system faced off in debate at the Ashland Rotary Club on Thursday.

"Our gig is information," Rotary Club President Jim Dunn said, opening up the event. "We want information about why you should vote for it, we want information about why you shouldn't vote for it. We don't want political opinion."

Ashland Rotary Club sponsored a discussion on the closure of the Jackson County library system and ballot measure 15-75, which would provide three years of operational funding. The ballot would levy a tax of 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The funding crisis comes in the wake of Jackson County's loss of $23 million dollars in federal funding, $8 million of which went directly to the library system. The loss of this federal money has caused the complete shutdown of all Jackson County Public Libraries.

Ashland Realtor Don Rist spoke against the proposed bill. Local attorney and representative of the Save Our Libraries Organization Joe Davis spoke in favor of it.

Rist started his presentation by emphasizing that he was not against libraries per se, rather he is against the current plan. Rist argued that having 15 libraries in Jackson County is excessive and unnecessary.

"I live in Talent. I have grandchildren in Talent." Rist said. "I don't think that they need to go to the Talent library to better themselves. I think they can come to Ashland or Medford. If you look at the costs for those outlying area libraries, they're prohibitively expensive."

Davis takes a different view of the situation and believes the library system was designed with Jackson County's particular needs in mind. As a rural county, he believes that it is necessary for Jackson County to have small libraries conveniently located in small communities.

"It's a public institution, that's locally designed to respond to the nature of our community. We are a rural county," Davis said. "These libraries allow for the children in Shady Cove, Butte Falls, and Jacksonville to go to their libraries after school."

Medford resident Travis Christian disagrees, and believes that the government is overspending. He said it is parent's responsibility to take their children to the library, even if it's not down the street.

Christian said, "You're talking to people who are tired of giving more whenever the government wants more. At some point you've got to use what you've got. It's ultimately the parent's responsibility to make sure their kids are in the right position for the future."

Ashland School Superintendent Juli DiChiro views the costs associated with libraries as an investment both in literacy and our society's economic future.

"There's a strong, strong connection between public libraries and literacy and it's been researched over and over again"&

166;," DiChiro said. "If we don't raise a generation of people who can get good jobs and contribute to the tax base, the whole society is going to fall apart."

Ultimately for Rist, the tax is unnecessary, too expensive and unfairly targets property owners.

"It's an unfair tax that is hitting property owners and no one else. We can't afford this tax," Rist said. "We're losing 23 million dollars in timber money and we're already paying 49 cents per thousand towards the libraries. That's 24 cents paying for remodeling and maintenance and 25 cents towards urban renewal, which was used to build the white city library. "

Davis responded by stating that Jackson County libraries are 5 percent cheaper per capita than the national average and that, even considering Ashland's high property values, the average per household payment would amount to $25 per month.

Davis said, "In Ashland the price's will be about $25, which is the price of one hard back book or two paper back books. So I'm hopeful that the people of Ashland will donate a book a month to the Jackson county library to keep it running."

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