Jackson County library supporters have galvanized in preparation for a 76-day marathon to persuade voters to support a levy in the May 15 election.
"It's going to be the longest shortest campaign," said Genie Gilliam.
She is the treasurer of the newly formed group Save Our Library System, which is pooling the resources of Friends of the Library groups throughout the county as well as other supporters.
Gilliam said the political action committee will spend long hours over a very short time answering residents' questions and overcoming hurdles to success, including the so-called double-majority rule.
A property tax levy in a non-general election requires a turnout of 50 percent of registered voters and a majority of those must vote yes.
Gilliam said the three-year levy is a "bridge" that will reopen libraries after they close April 6 and provide supporters with enough time to figure out a permanent solution for funding. The libraries must close because of a $23 million shortfall created when Congress failed to renew timber subsidies to the county last September.
The levy will ask voters to increase property taxes by 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, adding $110.22 in taxes annually on a house with an assessed valuation of $167,000, the county average. A similar measure was rejected by voters last November.
"One of the things that is not a hurdle is getting volunteers," said Gilliam, who added that hundreds of residents have come forward to offer their help. She said the show of support for the upcoming levy is stronger than for the one last November.
"Tremendous support has been seen not only in Medford and Ashland but throughout the county," said Joe Davis, Save Our Library System chairman.
Davis, a corporate attorney for Lithia Motors, said the group will reach out to the community and run advertising campaigns to promote the levy.
Davis said no area will be discounted, but heavy focus will be given to areas with large voting blocs such as east Medford.
"We value each 'yes' vote regardless of which community it comes from," he said.
Davis and his family are lifelong supporters of libraries, he said. His mother, Kathleen Davis, will be campaign manager for the group.
Supporters will go door to door prepared to answer questions about libraries and the levy, Joe Davis said.
Residents have raised concerns over County Administrator Danny Jordan's comment that even if voters approve a levy, the county is not legally obligated to spend it on libraries. However, Jordan also said that politically, the county would be compelled to spend the money from the levy solely on libraries.
Davis said he's received assurances from Commissioners C.W. Smith and Dave Gilmour that the levy money would only be used for libraries.
Kaye Clayton, president of the Friends of the Ruch Library board, said, " A lot of people are hesitant voting for that levy because they're aware the county can use the money for other things."
Clayton said these and other concerns will be addressed as thoroughly as possible in the next few weeks.
She said most residents in the Applegate want to do everything possible to retain the current library system, but are looking beyond the May election if voters don't approve the levy.
"I'm sure if it does not pass, this community will come together and open them up again," she said.
There has been some discussion about creating a small library system that would be made up of branches in Williams, Applegate and Ruch. The Williams branch is located in Josephine County, which also plans to close its libraries.
However, Clayton said the community would prefer to keep the entire library system open.
Marvin Rosenberg, an artist and resident in the Little Applegate area, said many local residents will get involved in the Save Our Library System group.
"It's one of the few moments in life when Republicans, Democrats, Jews, atheists and people in the community with different views can come together," he said.
Frequently, he hears someone say, "Why do we need libraries anymore?" Rosenberg said many residents rely on libraries for Internet access, for books and just a place for people to go in Ruch.
"The library here is home," he said. "It's much more than a library. It is a community center."
Rosenberg said he's heartened by the support in the community and the emotional loss that residents are feeling over the closing of their library.
"It's the sadness that has brought people together," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.