Libraries might reopen by the end of the year as Jackson County officials consider an outsourcing bid for all 15 branches that offers more hours of operation 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 C.W. Smith. "That's my goal."
Total costs of running all 15 branches for one year:
If libraries hadn't closed: $8,750,292
Union's bid: $7,505,406
LSSI's bid: $6,085,278
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, nearly $2.7 million less than if the county had continued to operate the libraries, which closed April 6 because of a budget shortfall.
At this point, the county has only agreed to enter into more negotiations with LSSI, potentially leading to a lower bid.
Another proposal from the Service Employees International Union Local 503, which represents Jackson County employees, is $1.4 million higher than the LSSI proposal.
County Administrator Danny Jordan sent the union an e-mail Wednesday stating that because the union proposal was so much higher, the county would enter into further negotiations with LSSI.
Smith, who is chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, cautioned that no official decision has been made yet to reopen all or some of the libraries, nor has a specific plan been fully developed.
"Whether or not it can be accomplished is yet to be seen," said Smith, adding that the county has been working diligently since April to find some way to reopen libraries.
Jordan said that entering negotiations with LSSI doesn't mean the county has decided to award a contract to that company, nor does it mean the county would be paying $6 million for services.
After more work on the bid, Jordan said he will prepare a recommendation soon that will go to the Jackson County Budget Committee and to the commissioners for their decisions.
If the county decides to award a contract to LSSI, the company stated in its bid that it could reopen libraries within 10 weeks.
Facing a $23 million annual shortfall, county commissioners closed all 15 library branches prior to a last-minute, one-year extension of a county timber payments program called the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. The money could help reopen the libraries, and Jackson County is hoping Congress renews the program for an additional four years.
County commissioners previously said they would not use the one-year extension to reopen libraries because the cost to operate all 15 branches was so high.
After an analysis of the two bids, Jordan said the county would save almost $9.5 million over five years with LSSI compared to the union. LSSI anticipates a rate of inflation of 3 percent compared to the union's 6 percent. By year five, the difference in bids between the union and LSSI for that year would be $2.4 million.
Assistant County Administrator Harvey Bragg said that after the review of the bids, "We chose the one that we think works the best for Jackson County."
Jordan said LSSI's bid includes similar community outreach programs and plans to work with volunteer groups and library advisory committees. In addition, the LSSI bid indicates the company would interview library staff that had been laid off.
On Monday, the union made public its proposal to operate libraries. Jordan said that decision compromised the county's ability to negotiate with LSSI because the company realized it was the low bidder and by how much.
In order to get a fair comparison of the two bids, the county subtracted some costs it wanted to control, such as the book budget of $640,000 and the computer system at $314,535. These costs, which also include maintenance and utilities, amount to $1.7 million. As a result, the base bid for the union is $5.8 million and for LSSI is $4.4 million.
Commissioner Smith said the county has received letters from all 15 communities outlining their ideas for reopening the libraries. Most have one common denominator: "Generally speaking, most of the cities urged us to try to run it cheaper," he said.
Smith said not one of the communities suggested closing its own branch as a way to save money.
"The city of Medford is the only one that has said we should keep the Medford library open and sell off all the others," said Smith.
He wouldn't discuss some of the options the county is analyzing at this point, but said, "People will be surprised with what we can come up with."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.