Libraries might reopen by the end of the year as Jackson County considers a private company’s bid to reopen all 15 branches with longer hours at a cost that is 30 percent cheaper.

“My personal conviction is that we will have our libraries open before the end of the year,” said county Commissioner C.W. Smith. “That’s my goal.”

Smith, who is the chairman of the three-member Board of Commissioners, cautioned that no official decision has been made yet to reopen libraries, nor has a specific plan been fully developed.

The county is considering a proposal by Maryland-based Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI) to provide library services for $6 million, almost $2.7 million less than if the government had continued to operate the libraries.

At this point, the county agreed only to entering into more negotiations with LSSI and that a final contract could end up with a different amount than the $6 million.

A second proposal, from the union representing Jackson County employees, is $1.5 million higher.

County Administrator Danny Jordan sent the union an e-mail message today stating that the county would enter into further negotiations with LSSI because the union proposal was so much higher.

Jordan said that the negotiations with LSSI don’t mean the county has decided to award a contract to that company, nor does it mean that the county would be paying $6 million for services.

He said he will be preparing a recommendation in the near future will go to the Jackson County Budget Committee and the Board of Commissioners for their decisions, but cautioned that more negotiations will take place in the meantime.

If the county decides to award the contract to LSSI, the company stated in its proposal that it could reopen libraries within 10 weeks.

The libraries’ April 6 closing occurred prior to a bill approved by the federal government that extends a county timber payments program for one year. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act extension will give the county about $23 million, which could be used to provide a budget to reopen libraries.

— Damian Mann