Ashland, Talent voters favored library levy

Residents in Ashland and Talent voted overwhelmingly in favor of a library levy May 15, but most of Jackson County rejected it, according to a preliminary precinct breakdown compiled by election officials.

Given the support in Ashland, Mayor John Morrison said, "That's a very strong mandate."

Morrison said it is likely the city will place a levy on the September ballot that would reopen the local library, possibly by October.

Out of 51 precincts in the county, only 12 endorsed the library levy that would have increased property taxes to open all 15 branches. The levy lost 58 percent to 42 percent.

The library system closed April 6 after the county found itself plunged in a budget crisis because of the loss of $23 million from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which lawmakers in Washington, D.C., failed to renew in September.

Outside of Ashland and Talent, three precincts approved the levy: the Rogue Valley Manor, one in central/west Medford and the Department of Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.

The Manor precinct had the highest turnout in the county at 81 percent, and the domiciliary had the lowest turnout at 8 percent.

Most precincts rejected the levy by a 2 to 1 mark or greater.

Some of the strongest pockets of opposition included Sams Valley, rural Eagle Point and rural White City, with nearly 3 to 1 against.

A few precincts were almost evenly divided, such as Rogue River, with 326 yes votes and 331 no votes. One precinct in southeast Medford cast 1,022 votes in support and 1,038 against.

Morrison said Ashland needs to work through many details on how to open the library, including hours of operation and level of service since it will no longer be part of the county library system.

He said estimates to reopen the library have dropped from $1.2 million to $1 million, with further reductions possible. "It could be less — hopefully not more," said Morrison.

The city's budget committee Tuesday night approved a September levy for 58 cents for every $1,000 in assessed valuation, or $96.86 annually on a house with an assessed value of $167,000, the county average. (The assessed valuation in Ashland is likely more because its home prices are often the highest in Jackson County.)

Morrison said because Ashland citizens were casting their vote for a complete library system, he's not sure how many might balk at the idea of opening just one library.

Morrison said the city will need to spell out to voters what they can expect once the library opens. "We would need to pinpoint very carefully what service we would have," he said. "We need to stay as close as we can with the level of services we had with the county system."

In order to reopen the library, Ashland will need to work with the county, which owns the building and books. Morrison said the county has been receptive during negotiations.

Ashland has set aside about $18,000 to continue the summer reading program, which was cancelled throughout the county when the libraries closed.

Morrison said Ashland didn't want local children to miss out on a very important program that stimulates interest in reading.

Ashland "is a community that has a tremendous commitment to education," he said.

Talent Mayor Don Steyskal said the City Council has been busy hammering out a budget recently, but he hopes to begin discussions about what steps it could take to reopen the local library.

"I would really like to see our library open up, but how we do it is the question," he said.

Steyskal said he was upset that library supporters pushed for the same levy in May that was proposed last November and failed.

He said he would prefer a full library system rather than independent branches.

Steyskal said it's premature to say whether Talent will follow Ashland by putting a levy on the September or November ballot.

As to the strong support Talent residents gave the levy, Steyskal said, "It's very heartening that the citizens of Talent value their library."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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