Libraries could reopen by November

A bare-bones library system could start up as early as November at half the previous cost and for about half the number of hours under an outsourcing proposal approved unanimously Tuesday by the Jackson County Budget Committee.

The county negotiated with Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI), a Maryland-based library management company, to operate all 15 branches at $4.3 million a year, or about half the former budget before libraries were closed April 6.

"It gets our libraries back open," said Commissioner C.W. Smith, who is on the six-member budget committee. "I've never once believed that our libraries wouldn't reopen."

Details of the contract still must be worked out, but the proposal could be approved by county commissioners on Oct. 1.

"When the libraries closed it was a very dark day for me personally," said Craig Morris, budget committee member. He said the libraries reopened "faster than I even thought we could see it."

Although the exact number of hours for each branch could change, the libraries in Ashland, Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point and Rogue River would be open for 24 hours a week under the proposal. 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.

"It's a good start," said Jim Olney, executive director of the Jackson County Library Foundation. "It wouldn't take much to double the hours."

Olney, one of about 40 audience members, said that without the union contract libraries operated under previously, volunteers can assume more duties and even potentially fill in on Sundays.

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

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 have only 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.

If the county asks voters to approve a special district or levy for libraries, the $4.3 million budget would work out to 33 cents for every $1,000 in assessed valuation, or half the amount defeated by voters last November and again in May. Voters did approve a $38.9 million bond measure in 2000 that is paying for the remodeling or rebuilding of libraries throughout the county.

Ashland residents will vote on a Sept. 18 levy that would have paid to reopen its library at a cost of about $1 million. Jordan said the city would likely only have to come up with $300,000 to $400,000 to bring up the total hours to about 40 a week.

During a preliminary review of bids to operate all libraries from LSSI and the Service Employees International Union Local 503, the difference in cost was $1.4 million for the first year. But after a more careful analysis, the county determined LSSI's bid was actually $1.8 million less. Over five years, LSSI's bid saved $11.6 million over the union's proposal.

The county then worked with LSSI to bring the bid down further by reducing hours of operation.

Jordan said a common theme emerged from the letters he received from various communities about what to do about libraries. Most wanted the county to operate the system at a reduced amount.

Shayne Maxwell, a budget committee member, said she didn't get the feeling that any community wanted to close its library.

"Everybody wanted their own library — that's why there are 15," she said.

(See correction notice below)Commissioner Dave Gilmour criticized the city of Medford for a general lack of communication. He said the response was better from Butte Falls than from Medford, which provided a list of questions about library services in its letter.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler said, “I won’t get into it with the county.”

He said the city has had questions and will probably have additional questions in the future.

Wheeler said he couldn't comment on the LSSI proposal because he hadn't seen it yet.

He said he is happy that the county is moving forward with its plans, but he didn't want to comment yet on whether 24 hours is enough for the Medford library.

Audience members generally seemed relieved that the county would open the system in some fashion, though some expressed reservations about outsourcing.

Medford library supporter Rey Guevara said, "It's going to be a real plus for the county."

Former library workers expressed disappointment at not being part of the union, but they are weighing their options.

Lori Hettman, former branch circulation supervisor in Gold Hill who is raising two children, said she intends to apply with LSSI for a job interview.

Anne Billeter, south region manager for the library system, also said she's thinking about applying to LSSI.

Jordan said he doesn't know how much LSSI will pay, nor its benefits package. LSSI librarians in Redding told the Mail Tribune in July they were receiving a salary comparable to when the system was run by the city.

Jordan said the voters and the communities demanded that the county run the libraries more efficiently, and this latest bid is the best effort the county can achieve.

"We're not going to get it any lower," said Jordan.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

Correction: The original version of this story included a reference by County Administrator Danny Jordan to Medford’s involvement in the process. Jordan said it mischaracterized his views. It has been removed from this version.

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