Talent library goes to vote

The Talent City Council mapped out a strategy Wednesday night to open its library later this year with a $4 per household utility surcharge, a $48 a year charge for nonresident library cards and some contribution from Jackson County.

Council members agreed, without a formal vote, to place the proposal on the ballot as an "advisory" to the council, likely on the Nov. 6 ballot. It also would be applied to commercial utility customers in a graduated manner. The amount recovered would allow the library to operate 32 hours a week.

The council, meanwhile, rejected the idea of a ballot measure aimed at assessed valuation, something Mayor Don Steyskal said would be unfair and regressive, costing most to the people who can afford it least.

"We're very excited, thrilled to death," said Patricia Remencuis, president of Talent Friends of the Library. "It's an exceptional choice by the council."

Anne Billeter, laid off as south valley manager for the library system after budget restrictions forced the closure of all 15 Jackson County brances in April, called the decision "extremely encouraging."

"Talent has been a strong proponent of good libraries and voted 'yes' on the last two levies (which failed countywide)," she said. "I think it will pass."

The "sense of the council" plan was made in response to a July 10 letter from Jackson County administrator Danny Jordan, which asked indivisual communities for ideas on alternate means of funding and operation of their libraries, until a long-term, system-wide solution is found.

The county library system closed when the federal government cut off traditional timber payments to counties. Congress passed a one-year restoration of payments while counties figure out replacement revenues.

Meanwhile, the Ashland Friends of the Library told the Ashland City Council at a noon meeting Wednesday that it had placed on the Sept. 18 ballot a measure to open the Ashland library with a two-year, 58-cent per thousand property tax hike.

Supporters formed "The Committee to Open Ashland Library" which is taking contributions for its campaign at P.O. Box 3598 in Ashland or on www.ashlandlibrary.org, Funds are immediately needed to pay increased fees on Voter's Pamphlet arguments, said Pam Vavra of FOTL.

The Ashland proposal also would include card charges for non-residents. Some council members expressed opposition to the proposal to privatize management of the library system and Councilman Russ Silbiger noted that it is a step onto a "slippery slope" for the city to take up library management.

Talent's plan is "a real sound proposal to go to the community with, simple, not complex — and if the county kicks in more, that's great," said councilman William Cecil.

Money raised in Talent, some $115,300, would go to salary and utilities, while the county contribution would pay for operations, such as book purchasing, the SOLIS catalog system and courier service, said Remencuis. The total outlay for the Talent library would be $285,763 a year.

The county has sent out Requests For Proposals for privatization of library management, with the idea of lowering costs, and those proposals, due Aug. 6, amount to a "huge waiting game," said Billeter, because they will impact negotiations about how much the county can contribute.

Familiar faces would be missing from the library, because union rules dictate that personnel are rehired based on seniority, Remencuis added.

Steyskal said he was confident, in light of past supportive votes, that the surcharge would pass. He said, "I don't even want to discuss a levy."

In her analysis of options, City Manager Betty Wheeler said a levy to support the library at the previous levels would cost $1.08 per thousand or $216 on a $200,000 property. She also said the council could adjust costs with fewer hours, but said a user fee would be cost-prohibitive.

For the long-term fix on libraries, Wheeler said it depends on privatization bids and the county's overall plan — with the option that Talent might "join forces" with other cities. Councilwoman Lynn Perkins suggested it could take in the Phoenix-Talent school district in the long term.

Vavra, also brought up that idea, saying in the long term, a library district might be formed of the cities that voted yes on library levies one or more times, including the Ashland School District, Talent, Phoenix and Rogue River.

Wheeler ruled out the use of school libraries in the long-term remedy, noting schools can't have adults on campus.

The Talent council can pass a surcharge without a vote of the people, but chose the path of getting popular support on record first. Wheeler told the council the vote on the surcharge should be advisory, so, if it failed, the council would not set any precedent of giving up its right to lay a surcharge.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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