CENTRAL POINT — Not usually one to ruffle political feathers, Mayor Hank Williams has a potentially hotbutton plan for keeping his city library open should the county find no other way.
With all 15 Jackson County libraries set to close April 6, county officials and residents have tossed around ideas ranging from a levy proposal in May to volunteer staffing and subscriber services.
"I get frustrated that nobody's coming out with any kind of alternative at all — nothing that could actually work," Williams said.
If a proposed 60 cent (per $1,000 assessed) levy fails this May, Williams would ask Central Point taxpayers to approve a smaller levy, just to keep its own library open.
Based on information collected by City Finance Director Jill Turner, Williams said about 26 cents (per $1,000) would generate some $238,000 from city taxpayers.
"And I think it could be done for less than that," he notes.
Then, the city will partner with School District 6 to run the city's library as it does for Crater High — at about half the $374,000 the county funds to run the city branch.
"Basically, if the levy fails, this is an alternative I'm going to present," Williams said. "Service isn't going to be the same — but neither are costs. And I'm not going to say whether it's good or not, but it's an alternative to keep our library open because libraries are important."
Thus far, Williams said he'd discussed his idea with county Commissioner C.W. Smith and Central Point School District 6 Superintendent Randy Gravon.
Smith was not immediately available for comment.
Gravon said he was encouraged that the mayor had come up with a possible solution to maintaining library service.
"We are talking to him, and I can't say I know a lot about the details just yet, but it is something we'd certainly be interested in," Gravon said.
"We've got a great relationship with the city. If we think this is something that could benefit the school district as well as the community, we'd certainly be interested in discussing the matter further."
Gravon said benefits to the school district in keeping library doors open range from part-time work study opportunities for students to library access during summer, when school facilities are closed.
"I've not talked to anyone in our district or our board about what this might look like or how it might happen," Gravon added. "But if it's something that doesn't cost us additional money and we have an additional service to offer our families, it looks like something well worth exploring. No one wants to see the library close."
Williams, who said he'd personally be voting for the 60-cent proposed levy this May, said the partnership between the city and School District 6 would be a key factor.
"The city has no business running a library," he insisted. "The school knows how to run a library. Vicki Robinson (of School District 6) saw all this shortage coming years ago. They used to have certified librarians, but they cut costs to keep things running."
Williams realizes the idea of a tax increase might not fly with voters — and his reasonable solution could upset folks "who think a county levy is the only alternative."
While the city could easily increase taxes to cover the operational expenses, Williams says he'd insist the matter go to a vote. "I want the taxpayers to tell me to do it," he said.
Should the county find a way to fund its library system in the future, the city would gladly step down from providing library services to its citizens.
"Everything is up in the air, and there are a lot of details to be worked out, but this is what I'm going to propose and it's probably going to stir up some folks," he said.
"The way I figure is, if citizens aren't willing to put up something, they probably don't deserve a library the county said for citizens to think of something that might work, so that's what I'm trying to do."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.