Ashland will proceed with library request

Ashland's request for a city library levy should remain on an upcoming ballot despite a county announcement last week that could reopen libraries including Ashland's, the council decided Monday.

The city is seeking a levy on the Sept. 18 ballot that would raise $3.1 million over three years to operate Ashland's library. Jackson County officials last week announced they had reached a tentative deal with a library-management company that could result in reopening all 15 branches by November.

At the special meeting Monday, the council debated how best to proceed with the September measure that would increase property taxes to reopen the Ashland Library. The council said it would use only what is needed from a proposed tax of $.58 per thousand dollars of assessed real estate value. The ballot language prevents the city from using the new tax to fund anything else.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said the tax levy could be used to augment service provided by the library-management company in negotiations with the county, or create a "hybrid option" using county books and buildings but city staff.

Bennett, however, said it is legally difficult to transfer employees from one public agency to another.

By augmenting the county's plan with local tax dollars, the city could add hours of operation, and perhaps some additional services, to the 24 operating hours per week the county is budgeting for Ashland's branch.

Taxing property owners $.15 per thousand dollars of assessed real estate value, roughly $32 a year for a $207,000 home, would add 16 additional operating hours — 40 total — each week. A $.22 property tax would increase hours of operation to a total of 48.

Library supporters crowded into council chambers during Monday's meeting. Some urged the council to resist efforts to privatize Ashland's library. Others spoke out to reopen the library as soon as possible by working with the county.

County Commissioner Dave Gilmour attended the meeting and encouraged Ashland and other communities to start their own library district. Gilmour, and others at the meeting, said a separate tax district to fund south valley libraries would likely be a better long-term solution than relying on the 15 branch Jackson County model now struggling to provide adequate financing.

— Daily Tidings, Ashland

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