If some Jackson County communities decide to go it alone to reopen their libraries, they might get hit with sticker shock.

If some Jackson County communities decide to go it alone to reopen their libraries, they might get hit with sticker shock.

Butte Falls residents would have to pay more than $7 per $1,000 in assessed valuation to operate their branch at previous service levels, while Rogue River property owners would pay almost $5, according to an estimate of library services prepared by Jackson County officials.

The county also looked at what it would cost to operate each library as little more than a reading room, with no ability to check out books, no maintenance, no book purchases and no cataloging system.

Under this scenario, Medford's central library would cost $2 million, compared to $4 million for previous operation levels.

Ashland, which has discussed a September levy to reopen its library, would need $777,563 for a bare-bones system compared to $1.3 million for previous levels.

All 15 Jackson County libraries closed April 6 because of a loss of $23 million annually in federal timber payments. Voters twice rejected a bond levy of 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to operate all branches.

Harvey Bragg, deputy county administrator, said the bare-bones service would offer very little. "It's almost a reading room," he said.

The county prepared the estimates as part of a lengthy process to find a way to reopen libraries. Outsourcing is one possibility under consideration.

Bragg said the county likely will send out a request for proposals this week to determine what it would cost if an outside firm took over operation of the entire library system or operated branches independently.

County officials have talked with Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI), which currently runs a three-library system in Redding, Calif. The union that represents county workers also has expressed interest in offering a proposal.

Bragg said the proposal request will determine exactly which services the county or community would pay for and which services would be required of the contractor. Book budgets, janitorial service and utilities would have to be considered in developing a contract with an outside company.

Even if the county were to outsource with a private company, it still hasn't found the money to pay for it.

The operating cost estimates were developed for a county task force considering solutions to the funding crisis.

Library Director Ted Stark said the bare-bones estimates amount to a total of all personnel costs plus utilities. "It'll get your doors open, but it won't do anything else," he said.

Stark said he created the estimates for the task force but wasn't asked specifically to determine what it would cost to open just a reading room or offer some other level of reduced service that would require less staff. The county estimated total library personnel costs for 2006-07 at $3.6 million.

"It's really a tool to show the blue ribbon task force why the library budget is the way it is," he said.

The base budget doesn't give a good assessment of what it would cost to operate a library so people could check out books or use the Internet, he said.

"The base budget is not a way to operate a library," he said.

Stark said the full cost estimates for each library are based on the assumption of some kind of centralized system.

He said he would be willing to work with any community to come up with a budget tailored to its needs, as he did in Ashland.

Ashland Mayor John Morrison said his city will ask voters in September to support paying an extra 58 cents for every $1,000 in assessed valuation on their property taxes to reopen the Ashland branch, possibly by October. A house with an assessed valuation of $250,000 in Ashland would pay another $145 annually.

The property taxes would raise $1 million and Ashland would contract with Jackson County to provide library services. Only the cities of Ashland and Talent supported the previous library levy.

Morrison said the two-year levy is viewed by his city as a temporary measure to give time to reopen a centralized system.

He said he didn't want to speculate whether LSSI offered a cheaper proposal to the city. But he did say the city would take a look at the offer.

"The bottom line is we want the best possible service at the lowest possible cost," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.