Service employees union unveils plan to reopen libraries

A union bid to outsource operation of all 15 branches in Jackson County would trim $1 million off the library budget, though the offer doesn't include maintenance and utility costs.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 503, which is affiliated with the Jackson County Employees Association, released a copy of the proposal Monday that offers three different plans to open libraries. The union provided a copy of the proposal to the Mail Tribune after county officials declined to disclose details of two outsourcing proposals that were received last week.

"We would hate to see (the proposal) languishing in some filing cabinet in (County Administrator) Danny Jordan's office," said John Mulvey, political organizer for the union.

The union proposal reduces library staff from 115 full- and part-time employees including administrative positions, to 100.

Jackson County's libraries closed April 6 when it appeared that Congress would not renew federal payments to timber-dependent counties. Congress eventually extended the program for one year, but the libraries have remained closed while county commissioners look for a way to restore some library services.

If the libraries had remained open, the budget to provide the same level of services would have been $8.5 million, rising 6 percent annually until 2011 if the same level of service were provided.

The union proposal includes costs for opening each library individually, and it also proposes opening just five branches for $6.8 million.

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith said he was disappointed that the union would release its proposal before it has been fully reviewed by county officials.

"I think it's almost unethical," he said. "It's a very poor attempt to manipulate the political process."

Smith said the county is working earnestly to reopen libraries, even though he said some people believe it is not happening fast enough.

"We are going to open libraries again," he said. "For anyone to believe this is a permanent closure is foolish."

Mulvey said it's important for the public to look at the proposals received by the county, particularly after county officials have suggested that outsourcing could save up to 40 percent.

He said the community could use the proposals as an organizational tool to build support for reopening libraries.

The county also received a proposal from Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI), a Maryland-based library management company.

County officials declined to comment on the proposals, citing Oregon law that requires financial proposals be kept confidential to avoid disclosure to competing offers during the negotiation process.

Mulvey said the union's offer would essentially reestablish library services at prior levels if the 15-branch option were accepted.

The Medford library, which takes care of all the centralized operations of the entire system, would cost the most under this proposal, at $3.4 million, followed by Ashland at $1.2 million and Rogue River at $438,000.

The least expensive library to operate is Butte Falls at $53,606.

"The little branches are negligible as far as costs go," said Mulvey.

He said the union's proposal doesn't provide the 40 percent savings expected from LSSI, but he said he doubts his competitor could offer a substantially lower price. He said the only way LSSI could offer a lower price is by cutting salaries and benefits dramatically, or offering a reduced rate the first year just to get the contract.

"They might offer a loss leader the first year," he said.

A representative from LSSI could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mulvey said the proposal was developed in a relatively short time and may not address every conceivable question about the operation of libraries. He said the maintenance and utility costs were purposely not included at the county's request.

The union provided other options to reopen libraries as soon as possible.

If libraries were reopened on Nov. 1, it would cost $4.7 million to run them until the end of the fiscal year, on June 30, 2008. If the libraries reopened on January 1, the price tag would be $3.5 million.

So far, only Ashland has developed a specific ballot measure proposal to pay for its local library. Measure 15-79 on the Sept. 18 ballot will ask voters to pay an additional 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for their library.

If approved, the measure would raise about $1 million for the library and add about $120 to the taxes on a house assessed at $207,000, the average assessed value in Ashland.

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