Opening four of Jackson County's 15 libraries might not generate the savings some residents have suggested, a preliminary review by the county administrator has found.
Danny Jordan told county commissioners Thursday that the annual cost to run the main Medford library and branches in Ashland, Central Point and Eagle Point might run about $7 million to $7.5 million. All 15 libraries cost the county $8.3 million to operate before they closed April 6 because of a budget shortfall.
Cities and other government agencies have suggested options to open libraries or to use the buildings.
Ashland: City might seek a September levy to open branch.
Butte Falls: Schools may partner to reopen branch.
Central Point: Schools offered to partner with county to open
Gold Hill: A government agency is looking at using the
Jacksonville: City may seek levy to open branch.
Medford: A government agency is looking to lease or purchase building. City officials also looking at options to open library.
Prospect: Schools might partner to open branch.
Ruch: Medford School District might partner to open branch.
"There is not a huge savings," said Jordan, noting that his estimates are preliminary.
Jordan told commissioners that opening just one or several libraries is fraught with legal complexities concerning ownership of buildings and arrangements over equipment, materials and the centralized computer system that was shared by all the branches.
He urged commissioners not to rush to action until he's had a chance to explore all the possibilities, including cities' plans to reopen branches and the option of outsourcing management of the entire system.
"Responding to what are we going to do right now is premature," he said.
Jordan said he's received a very rough estimate of $5 million to outsource management of the libraries, but it might cost another $1.5 million to provide maintenance and pay for utilities on the buildings.
In the next few weeks, the county will send out requests for proposals for companies, unions or other parties interested in running the libraries. Jordan expects more information within three months.
Jordan said the county had discussed the possibility of outsourcing last year, but tabled it pending the outcome of a May library levy.
"We were asked not to complicate the levy process," he said. The levy was defeated 58 percent to 42 percent.
Jordan said in addition to cities, some government agencies have expressed interest in using library buildings.
Because each city has different agreements with the county, Jordan said it will take some time to sort through all the potential legal pitfalls.
For instance, a government agency has expressed interested in using the Gold Hill branch for a purpose other than operating a library. Jordan said the county has an agreement whereby Rogue Community College would take over ownership of the building if it is not used as a library for 10 years.
Since the county has $39 million invested in the buildings, Jordan said it has to make sure they are properly maintained if another party uses them.
He said Ashland has the financial wherewithal to take care of its branch, but he worries that the strapped school system in Butte Falls might struggle to stay on top of maintenance.
Jordan said it would be difficult to open just one branch because there are cost savings involved in a countywide system.
If Ashland reopened for about $1 million annually without being part of the entire system, it would have only 20 percent of the book inventory, he said. To gain access to materials in the central library, Ashland might have to pay an additional $200,000.
The libraries closed because Congress failed to renew payments to timber-dependent counties last September. A one-year extension is in the works, but it is unclear how much money that will mean for Jackson County.
Jordan said some people want the county to pay off the $30 million remaining on a 2000 library bond and $6 million remaining on the Juvenile Justice Center.
If the county gets about $23 million from timber revenues as it did in 2006, about $15 million would be left over after dedicated funds are sent to roads and other county services. The county has about $24 million in rainy-day funds. If the county used all the money to pay off the library and juvenile bonds, it would free up about 60 (see correction below<)/b> cents per $1,000 assessed valuation in property taxes. However, the county would have used up its reserves.
Waiting for Jordan's complete assessment of options for the libraries will be difficult, said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "We're under a lot of political pressure," he said. But he urged other commissioners to wait until Jordan had gathered the information.
Smith said he's been surprised by the lack of communication from some cities over the library issue, particularly because of the importance of coordinating some sort of library system.
"Until the 11th hour we haven't heard from the city of Medford," he said, noting that Medford has recently started discussing the matter with county officials.
Commissioner Jack Walker said he was willing to wait to gather as much information as possible. "Three months is not that long to come up with a permanent solution," he said.
Commissioner Dave Gilmour predicted that the county ultimately will no longer have one Central Library with 14 outlying branches, particularly because of the negative responses by voters in White City, Eagle Point and Shady Cove.
"We shouldn't push it on them," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or email@example.com.
Correction: The original version of this story overstated the amount of taxes that could be saved by paying off the library and juvenile justice bonds early and ending the White City Urban Renewal District in 2009. This version has been corrected.