Mayor: Ashland's levy might be reduced

If Jackson County finds a way to reopen its libraries, a proposed levy on Ashland residents might be reduced and the money used to extend the hours at their branch.

Ashland Mayor John Morrision said that depending on what the county approves, the city might collect only a portion of the levy that could generate up to $1.032 million annually.

"We wouldn't have to levy the whole 58 cents," said Morrison. "We could take a smaller amount of that."

If passed, Measure 15-79 would add up to 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for two years, or about $120 per year on a single family home with an assessed value of $207,000, the average for Ashland. Typically in Jackson County the assessed value is about 50 percent of the real market value.

Jackson County officials have entered into negotiations with Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI), a Maryland-based library management company that has offered a bid of $6 million to run all 15 libraries, or about $2.7 million less than the annual budget if they had remained open.

LSSI's bid would allow libraries to remain open longer hours, but the county might negotiate a lower price based on reduced hours.

The LSSI bid calculates that opening Ashland's branch independent of the rest would cost about $1.2 million annually, not counting maintenance, books and other costs.

Many Ashland residents, including Morrison, are leery of using a private company to operate the libraries.

"I'm not a big supporter of outsourcing," he said. "But I'm willing to live with it for two years."

He said the possibility of outsourcing could alarm some voters, but he said that Ashland residents also are focused on obtaining the best value for the dollar.

"There's that old myth that if it's on the ballot in Ashland its a sure thing," he said. "It isn't like people in Ashland don't care what something costs."

Morrison noted that voters in November rejected a measure that would have paid for a new fire station.

The city generally is careful about what does go on the ballot, he said, and noted that according to Jackson County assessment data Ashland doesn't have the highest rate per $1,000 of property taxes in the valley.

If the levy passes, the city has promised local residents that the Ashland branch would be open a minimum 40 hours.

However, the county may come up with a plan to open the branch for fewer hours.

Morrison said the city could use a portion of the levy money to pay to keep the library open for the 40 hours or more.

The mayor said he hopes a long-term funding solution can be found to keep libraries open because it is important to operate them as a system.

While he said he appreciates the county's efforts in trying to find a way to reopen them, he added, "We took the lead in saying it was unacceptable."

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