Commissioners strike deal to reopen libraries

A bare-bones library system would reopen as early as November at half the previous cost and half the hours under a proposal approved by the Jackson County Budget Committee today.

The county negotiated a budget with Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI), a Maryland-based library management company, that works out to $4.3 million a year, or about half the annual budget before libraries were closed April 6.

"It gets our libraries back open," said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "I've never once believed that our libraries wouldn't reopen."

The deal still will have to be approved by the Board of Commissioners, although all three commissioners sit on the budget committee. The county also still needs to finalize a contract with LSSI, although the company has agreed to provide the service for $4.3 million.

Libraries in Ashland, Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point and Rogue River would be open 24 hours a week. Branches in Gold Hill, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Shady Cove, Talent and White City would be open 16 hours a week. Outlying branches in Applegate, Butte Falls, Prospect and Ruch would be open eight hours weekly.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said the money for the libraries would come from a federal timber payments program that was reauthorized for one year after the closure of the libraries. The county expects to get about $23 million from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act.

Jordan said the county won't dip into a $27 million rainy-day fund to pay for libraries, reserving that money to pay for public safety or health services if the county payments program isn't authorized beyond a year.

None of the county officials regarded the proposal as a permanent solution to keep libraries open.

Jordan said the county would only have enough money to keep libraries open for three years unless some other revenue source is found.

"This is a transition to a fix," said Jordan.

— Damian Mann

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