Ticket surcharge for libraries proposed

Concerned that city officials are not moving aggressively enough to open its library, Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas says he will propose a plan tonight that could have a local branch open by August.

"My interest is getting the library open as soon as possible," Navickas said. "It's important to the health of the county and the morale of our community."

In a telephone interview Sunday, Navickas said in addition to the temporary property tax hike that the Ashland City Council is already considering, at tonight's Citizens' Budget Committee meeting he will propose enacting a surcharge on performance tickets over $50 to such venues as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other local productions.

Charging ticketholders a buck or two, he said, would help take the pressure off homeowners as the city struggles to find the $1.2 million needed to fund the library locally.

As a stopgap, Navickas said the city council should immediately raise property taxes 15 cents per $1,000 assessed value &

which would add $37.50 per year to the city property tax bill for a home assessed at $250,000 &

rather than wait to put the idea to voters in the fall.

Navickas said his idea would fund the library for four months, giving time for voters to approve a larger levy that could be collected until Jackson County provides library service once again.

"This way we could open our library relatively soon while still receiving voter approval for the overall increase," he said.

Jackson County commissioners closed the county's 15 branches on April 6, after Congress failed to reauthorize the $425 million a year Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, which funneled $23 million in timber subsidies annually into Jackson County coffers.

The money, which Congress began paying 700 counties in 39 states after federal logging restrictions led to diminished harvests, has been used locally to bankroll such things as road construction and public safety, in addition to libraries.

"There is certainly the possibility that there won't be a county solution, but I hope that is not the case," said Councilor Russ Silbiger. "Waiting and putting (a tax increase) on the ballot is the best solution all the way around, even if it takes a couple more months to open the library." Ashland City Councilor Cate Hartzell said, while she wants the library opened as soon as possible, it is unrealistic to expect that the doors will reopen immediately.

"We'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the city of Ashland that doesn't believe that libraries are important," she said. "The question is, obviously, what can we afford in a short-term solution?"

One suggestion, she said, is opening the Carnegie library on Siskiyou Boulevard, at least partially a couple days a week, enough for a summer reading program for youths, and have volunteer runners get books off the shelves for patrons, allowing most of the 22,655-square-feet branch to remain mothballed.

"I am interested in seeing how efficiently we can have the libraries open," Hartzell said.

With a host of other city needs in mind, she added, "It is important that we solve this problem in context and keep peoples' pocketbooks in mind," noting that the city needs an additional fire station and to restore cuts made to local bus service.

Councilor David Chapman said the city council should eschew an immediate tax hike, and instead defer to the voters, although last week 73 percent of Ashlanders approved the $8.2 million countywide levy that, in the end, was overwhelmingly rejected by 58 percent of voters countywide.

"We just shouldn't do it without their permission," Chapman said of a tax increase. "It's not fair to assume that because they voted for one that they'll vote for another."

The city, he said, ought to take a hard look at what previously offered library services could be pared and how to get more volunteers involved.

One short-term solution he supports is opening elementary school libraries for the summer so that youths have access to books.

As for a so-called ticket tax, he said it "doesn't make sense" to use it to finance something unrelated to tourism.

Among other funding sources under consideration is a two-percent utility surcharge that would amount to an average $8 a month increase for ratepayers.

Councilor Alice Hardesty said that would be the "least equitable" way to open the library.

"I do not relish raising property taxes," she said. "We won't have to have a system as marvelous as the one we had, but we could get a system that we could live with for less."

She added, "The most important thing is that we have something for the kids."

As for the ticket tax, she said, "It's something to consider," noting that she would rather see the hotel-motel tax increased instead.

"We need to look at a lot of different alternatives," she said. "This is just the beginning of the discussions."

can be reached at csrizo@hotmail.com.

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