A dejected group of library supporters were stunned Tuesday night by the overwhelming defeat of a levy that would have reopened all 15 branches in Jackson County.
"That's a tragedy," said Medford resident Malcolm MacNair.
The property tax levy, which would have raised $8.3 million annually, received 31,876 no votes and 21,906 yes votes as of 11 p.m., a 59.3 percent to 40.7 percent split.
About 50 supporters showed up at the Maentz Agency offices in Medford hoping to celebrate a victory for the library levy.
"It's a discouraging day for the libraries and the people of Jackson County," said Joe Davis, chairman of the Save Our Library System campaign.
Jackson County's libraries closed on April 6 after Congress failed to renew the Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which pumped $23 million into county coffers annually.
Davis said he believes many residents voted against the levy not because they don't support the libraries, but because they don't support this method of funding them.
Library supporters, he said, had poured a tremendous amount of energy into the campaign, manning phone banks and placing lawn signs throughout the county.
Organizers say it is too early to determine whether they will attempt another levy in September or November or consider another way of funding libraries.
"We will need to digest the results and see what is feasible," Davis said.
Ashland Realtor Don Rist, who campaigned against the levy, said it failed by about the same margin as a similar levy last November, which lost 59 percent to 41 percent.
"Instead of coming up with something new, they did the same thing as last November," said Rist.
He said voters in the Medford School District likely decided they couldn't pay any more property taxes after approving a school bond last November.
"People said, 'Wait a second,' " said Rist.
Rather than putting another levy in front of voters, Rist said, library supporters should sit down with those who voted no to brainstorm new solutions.
"Other ideas need to be explored and weren't," he said.
Rist said he'd be willing to join a committee exploring other funding solutions. He said he would not rule out supporting another, smaller levy.
Despite campaigning against the levy, Rist said he supports the idea of libraries and said there will be a solution found to reopen them.
"I think we'll have the libraries," he said.
Commissioner Dave Gilmour, who gathered with library supporters, said he didn't foresee any way on the horizon to reopen libraries, considering the county's fiscal problems.
"We're in a terrible situation," he said. "There are not a lot of options on the table."
Gilmour said he believes a lot of residents who otherwise support libraries voted against them because of a number of factors, including high gas prices, a faltering housing market, an endless war in Iraq and what appears to be the early stages of a recession. "People are under a cloud right now," he said.
Gilmour, a doctor, said that in talking to his patients, many of them said they were sad about voting against the libraries, but they felt they couldn't afford the property taxes.
Malcolm MacNair said that when he called local residents to make sure they voted, some of them actually screamed at him.
His wife, Barbara MacNair, after hearing the library levy failed, said, "That's what I figured all along."
"It's because of the political composition of the county," Malcolm MacNair said.
Joe Davis said there were many issues that made it confusing for voters when deciding whether to support the libraries, including whether Congress would renew the timber payments program.
Despite the second defeat, Davis said, "It wasn't for a lack of trying."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.