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MailTribune.com
  • A failed library levy won't stop supporters

    Advocates say they'll keep searching for ways to reopen county libraries
  • Library supporters are looking beyond the May 15 election in case voters reject a levy that would reopen all 15 branches.
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  • Library supporters are looking beyond the May 15 election in case voters reject a levy that would reopen all 15 branches.
    "If the levy should fail, and we're hoping it won't, we will continue to look for other options," said Genie Gilliam, chairwoman of the Library Advisory Committee. "The community needs libraries. It's just a matter of figuring out what the public would support."
    Gilliam said the next course of action will depend on the recommendations expected at the end of May from the 13-member Task Force on Jackson County Services.
    Some of the options include the possibility of another levy at a later election, or asking voters to create a special district in November 2008, a move that would make libraries financially independent from the county.
    In the May election, voters will decide on a three-year levy that would generate $8.3 million annually for libraries, which will close to the public at the end of the day April 6.
    In order to be successful, a property tax levy in a nongeneral election requires a turnout of 50 percent of registered voters, with the majority voting yes. Voters rejected a similar levy last November.
    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.
    Gilliam said many people she's talked to incorrectly compute their tax based on the real market value of their house, rather than the assessed value.
    For example, Gilliam's manufactured home in Jacksonville has a real market value of $245,000 and an assessed valuation of $86,000. Her additional tax from the levy would be $56.76 a year, far less than if she computed it at $245,000.
    Gilliam, who views the levy as a bridge to a permanent funding solution, doesn't have much hope that the county will get an extension for the timber subsidies, known as the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act.
    "The real problem is we have a huge national deficit, and we have a huge war, and it's creating local problems," she said.
    As library supporters campaign for the levy, the library system is preparing to shut down 23 days from today.
    "It's getting close," said Ted Stark, county library director.
    Official layoff notices will go out to the equivalent of 80 full-time library workers on March 22 or 23.
    Only 15 library workers will remain after the branches close. Then at the end of April or early May, only six will remain as the libraries are mothballed for up to one year.
    Jim Fety, a member of the library advisory committee, said failure of the levy could slow down the momentum to find a long-term solution for library funding.
    "I think that people will be very discouraged for a while," he said, but added, "If I'm right, no one, including myself, will give up."
    Supporters, he said, would sift through the reasons why the levy failed.
    In the meantime, he said, "Rather than thinking about what's going to happen after May 15, we want to think about how to get the vote out."
    He said another important date is the day libraries close, when the skepticism about the county's financial dilemma will hit home to residents.
    "Many people still don't believe the libraries are going to close," he said. "This will drive home the point of just how serious a pickle we're in."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.
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