Ashland group sets library levy goals

ASHLAND — To boost the chances for passage of a local library levy, a newly formed campaign committee plans to drum up a strong turnout in the Sept. 18 election.

Supporters of the Committee to Open Ashland Library say the overwhelming number of yes votes in Ashland in the May levy indicates a likelihood of passage in September.

"Certainly that would inspire confidence," said Pam Vavra, co-chairwoman of the committee. "But certainly we don't take anything for granted."

The levy will require both a majority vote and a turnout of more than 50 percent to meet the so-called double majority requirement. A May levy that would have reopened libraries countywide failed everywhere except Ashland and Talent.

Ashland voters will pay 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value if Measure 15-79 passes. The levy is expected to generate $1.032 million annually. The average assessed value for a single family home in Ashland is about $207,000, which would result in $120 annually in additional property taxes.

The committee plans to raise about $13,000 for the campaign, which equates to about $1 for every potential voter in town. The money will be used for phone banks, door-to-door canvassing and for mailers.

Vavra said the biggest problem will be to get a sufficient number of voters to mail in their ballots, particularly because families are just returning from vacations and might be distracted.

She said the committee's role will not be to persuade voters but to keep them informed of progress being made by the city and the county as to how the library will operate if it is reopened.

Vavra and her co-chairwoman, Amy Blossom, say that the lack of a library is of great concern to local residents in a community that prides itself on its arts and education system and efforts to prevent illiteracy.

"The survival of our democratic institutions are at stake," said Vavra.

Not having a library in Ashland has already created alarm among tourists and potential home buyers, said Blossom.

Sandy Kuykendall, a Realtor with Gateway Real Estate in Ashland, said, "It is shocking to a lot of people coming into town that we don't have a library."

Some prospective home buyers have told her they are thinking twice before purchasing a home here because there is no library.

"They may not want to move here if this community does not have all the things they want," she said.

Kuykendall said she assures her clients that Ashland will likely have its library open in the near future.

The county has sent out requests for proposals to see if the library system can be run more cheaply than it was before cuts in federal funding closed all 15 branches. The city could contract with Jackson County to provide library services. Another possibility is to hire an outside firm to run the library.

Vavra said Ashland and the county will be negotiating how much the city can use books and other materials contained in the Central Library in Medford.

"We're pretty confident the Ashland Library will have access to 50 percent or more of the entire holdings of the library system," she said.

Another issue is how much to charge residents from outside Ashland. Vavra said one suggestion is to charge a family the same amount as an Ashland resident would pay in increased property taxes.

Ashland residents, she said, want more weekend hours and at least the same level of services they received before the April 6 closing.

Many of the questions about the library should be answered after the county receives its request for proposals to run libraries on Aug. 6.

Vavra said residents wonder what's going to happen after the levy runs out in two years. "A lot of that depends on what goes on at the county level and the federal level," she said. Ashland also would like to work with other cities that are interested in reopening their libraries.

During the May levy, there was some discussion about the perceived inefficiencies of the library system, but Vavra disagrees. "Those really familiar with the library system know it went through a drastic budget cut about four years ago," she said. The cuts led to reduced hours and staff as well as a decline in public relations, which Vavra said meant the public was less aware of library services.

Vavra thinks Ashland residents can't tolerate being without a library.

"It's part of the fabric of a healthy community," said Vavra. "The higher the education level of your community, the more it values libraries."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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