Even if Ashland residents vote in May to keep the library in their city open, it's unclear if they could use books, services and other materials that belong to the Jackson County Library System.

"I don't know what access, if any, they would have to books in any other libraries," Jackson County Library Director Ronnie Budge said. "We just haven't gotten that far yet."

Jackson County's 15 libraries are scheduled to close April 6. The county expects to lose an estimated $23 million in revenue annually following the expiration of a federal payment intended to assist timber-dependent communities. After voters rejected a local levy in November, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners decided to shut the libraries down. Other departments, including the sheriff's office and public works, will take smaller cuts.

On Tuesday, the Ashland City Council voted unanimously to put either a property tax or income tax levy request on the May ballot to fund the Ashland branch independently if no countywide solution is reached.

An intergovernmental agreement between Jackson County and the city of Ashland would set the ground rules for how the city would operate the library, according to Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.

"There are going to be a lot of legal questions to ask," he said. "We'll definitely have a dialogue. We're definitely not against keeping libraries open if the county can't."

But, Jordan added, "I suspect we will see something from the county commissioners."

The commissioners are divided over proposals to provide a new funding source for the library system.

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith, is viewed as a potential swing vote on a countywide solution. The other two commissioners are firmly entrenched. Commissioner Dave Gilmour, a library supporter, helped former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw devise a proposal for a 1 percent income tax, an idea endorsed by the county library advisory committee. Commissioner Jack Walker opposes the income tax and said Tuesday that he would rather see the timber industry revived to help fund libraries.

Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett said a countywide solution would be the city's first choice.

"There are a lot of complexities to this," she said. "That's why the message (from Tuesday night's council vote) was that a county solution was better."

Robert Plain is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at 482-3456 or bplain@dailytidings.com.