Library report coming by May

May, concerned library users should have a better picture of the future of the Ashland Public Library.

The citizen library advisory ad hoc committee has ramped up its schedule, meeting every week instead of once a month, to meet the May deadline members set for themselves to make recommendations to the city council, said Pam Vavra, chair of the committee.

The main options in front of the committee are extending Ashland's levy to supplement county services or creating a separate library district, with several alternatives for boundaries. A district would have a designated source of revenue separate from the general fund, and could be based on one or more school district boundaries, city limits, or even the entire county.

"We haven't established what we would call ideal," Vavra said. "I think the ideal system is a countywide district, but I think that there's not much hope among our members that that is feasible, certainly not in the near future."

The Ashland City Council formed the committee following the successful passage of a city-only levy following the closure of all 15 Jackson County libraries for several months in 2007. Ashland's library remains under the jurisdiction of the county, but the levy funds allow the city's branch to be open more hours each week than the other libraries funded only by the county.

Jackson County uses federal timber payments to pay for library operational costs, but those funds are not approved beyond this year by the federal government.

Earlier this week in Medford, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said securing the timber funds is among his highest priorities when Congress reconvenes.

Joining with Talent

One suggested solution would be the formation of a district combining Ashland and Talent, two cities with a history of extra taxpayer support for the library. Betty Wheeler, Talent city manager, met with the committee in December and voiced concerns that Talent residents might be reluctant to make such a move.

"The concern I had was that Ashland is fairly larger than the City of Talent, so they could have the appearance of overpowering the city," Wheeler said. "It wouldn't be an equal arrangement."

However, that doesn't mean the issues couldn't be worked out, she said. The Ashland committee will continue to meet with Talent officials for additional research, Vavra said.

If the committee decides to forego a district in favor of renewing the levy, they will still need to decide whether to recommend an extension until 2010 or 2012.

"We want to get in synchronization with the county," said committee member David Churchman. "Right now the two plans are running out at different times, and it complicates life. We want to work with the county."

Before they can make recommendations, they will continue to evaluate all options based on available services and financial and political feasibility.

Evaluating LSSI

In addition to finding a long-term solution, the Ashland City Council also charged the committee with monitoring the service provided by LSSI. As part of the deal to reopen the libraries, Jackson County contracted with LSSI, to operate its libraries and reduce the annual operating budget.

For now, that has fallen on the list of priorities, Vavra said, and the committee has not yet established the criteria for evaluation.

The committee is collecting data on current library services and plans to host a public forum to gather community input.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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