The fate of Jackson County's libraries will rest in voters' hands May 15 after county commissioners on Wednesday agreed to place a levy on the ballot.

"It is going to be an uphill battle," said Commissioner C.W. Smith.

The vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Jack Walker opposing the levy.

The levy, which would require property owners to pay 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, would need a so-called double-majority to be successful. This means 50 percent of registered voters must turn out for the election and a majority of those must vote yes for a property tax to pass in a non-general election.

The three-year levy would raise $8.3 million to fund Jackson County's library system, which is closing April 6 because Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act.

The levy would add $110.22 in taxes annually on a house with an assessed value of $167,000, the county average.

Voters rejected a similar levy in November. However, a $38.9 million bond measure to build new libraries passed in 2000 after clearing the double-majority hurdle.

"Many people didn't believe we were going to close libraries," said Smith. "They thought we were going to pull the rabbit out of the hat."

He said the only thing that might prevent library closure is if Congress renewed the federal funding program that funneled $23 million in Jackson County annually, paying for libraries, roads and sheriff's patrols.

Commissioners briefly discussed the option of a levy of 50 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation, but rejected it.

The 50-cent levy was first proposed when county officials considered charging for library cards. However, Oregon Librarian Jim Scheppke sent the county a letter stating that charging user fees for a public library is illegal in Oregon.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour said he supports the levy, but sees it as only a temporary solution to provide funding for the libraries.

"This is not a permanent solution but a bridge to a permanent solution," he said.

Walker said he would prefer a long-term funding solution for the libraries and for the county.

Walker has advocated putting pressure on federal officials to allow more timber harvests in Jackson County. He said many of the county buildings were built during an era when logging pumped a considerable amount into local coffers.

While he said he supports local libraries, Walker said, "The public has created a Cadillac library system but we have a hybrid funding solution."

Smith also said he had personal reservations about the levy. "If I had my druthers, I might not vote for this," he said.

But Smith said he has the strong impression that Jackson County residents want their library system.

"My personal feelings have to be put aside," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or