Libraries will be reopened, and responsibly

Daily Tidings Editorial

Despite all the uncertainty over the future funding for Jackson County libraries, voters in Ashland can approve the city's levy without feeling as if they are giving the city council a blank check.

On the surface, it feels like that. Knowing what we're voting for, even in an uncertain, dynamic situation like the library levy, is critical. But the council and city staff have provided enough contingencies that voters can endorse the levy knowing the dollars will go to maintain a reasonable level of library operation.

Voters will soon be asked to approve the city's property tax levy of up to 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or roughly $120 a year for the owner of a median-priced home. After the vote concludes, and assuming voters in Ashland vote as they have in the past two library elections to approve the tax, council will meet to certify the exact amount of the levy. Only that which is needed to operate the library will be chosen, City Administrator Martha Bennett assures us.

The most probable scenario is that, between now and then, the city and county will nail down how their different approaches will work together. The county is proposing to outsource the operation of the library, thus saving nearly one-third of the operational costs &

roughly $2.7 million overall. This contract would provide funding to open Ashland's library 24 hours a week.

The city voted to ensure a minimum of 40 operating hours a week, so it could use some of the levy funds approved during the election to pay the difference in operating costs. The exact cost of this is still to be determined but should be far less than the 58 cents levy. Ashland's library will be the best-funded in Jackson County, with the longest range of hours, which is only fitting considering the indefatigable support of Ashland voters in the recent elections.

Further, the city is negotiating with the outsourcing company to have as many former employees rehired as is possible. All should likely to be guaranteed an interview.

Some voters are uncomfortable with the county's decision to privatize the operation of the library system. But in this instance, Ashland must accept its place within the county as a whole. To go it alone would mean a protracted negotiation with the county, a loss of potential benefit and service from the rest of the county and more financial burden to the taxpayers.

The council's goal has been to fund the operation of Ashland's library for a minimum of 40 hours a week. It appears they will soon accomplish that goal while spending far less than the maximum amount approved by voters.

The bottom line is Ashland's library is about to be reopened. In so doing, this city council will enjoy one of its biggest successes &

crafting a solution that is responsible, specific and consistent with the general consensus of the people of Ashland.

All that's left is for voters to support the effort.

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