Ashland levy: Vote no for now

If Jackson County still had made no progress toward reopening the library system, Ashland's proposed local option library levy would make sense.

But the county is moving quickly toward reopening all the libraries, perhaps as soon as November. Ashland's levy raises more questions than it answers, and could actually delay reopening the Ashland Library until details could be worked out between the city and the county.

For those reasons, we recommend voting no on Measure 15-79 for now. Let the county proceed to get all the libraries operating again. Then Ashland residents can decide whether they want to augment the county operation, how they want to do it and how much they want to spend.

Our biggest concern about the Ashland levy, now that the county has decided to contract library operations to a private company, is that Ashland officials can't tell voters how much they'll be taxed, how much the city would spend and exactly what the money would buy.

The Ashland levy, as it will appear on the ballot, would authorize 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. During a special meeting Monday, council members said the city would use only what was needed from that amount. But how much that would be remains murky at best.

The county plan would open the Ashland library 24 hours per week.

Options mentioned Monday included 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to boost that to 40 hours and 22 cents per $1,000 to increase to 48 hours.

And that's without the union/non-union issue.

Some Ashland residents are upset that the county plan will replace public employees working under a union contract with private-sector employees without union representation. One proposal would have the city operate the library using public employees but with a county building and county books.

That option could actually delay reopening Ashland's library, not to mention the difficulty of coordinating the details with the countywide operation. Imagine the prospect of an Ashland branch library with union librarians while every other library employee in the county was non-union.

If Ashland wants that kind of operation, it should be entirely separate, and that is far too large an issue to be settled by a simple levy vote.

A local levy was a reasonable reaction to the prospect of having no library service indefinitely. Now, however, it appears the libraries will reopen this year, although at reduced hours. The local levy has become an unnecessary complication.

Our recommendation to Ashland voters: Turn down this levy, let the county plan proceed, and wait until the dust settles. Then craft a measure that will spell out exactly how much money will be needed and what it will pay for.

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