Jubilant Ashland Library backers say doors should open in late October — Nov. 1 at the latest — after nearly three-fourths of voters Tuesday night approved a property tax levy to operate the library up to 40 hours a week.
Champagne corks popped at Standing Stone Brewery, as backers toasted not only the 53 percent turnout — a comfortable margin over the required 50 percent for revenue measures — but the overwhelming 74.6 percent who voted in favor of the levy.
Unofficial results from the election show 4,919 yes votes to 1,672 no votes (25.4 percent).
The landslide victory came after some Ashlanders expressed doubts because the measure allowed a levy of 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value, much more than was needed after Jackson County officials belatedly unveiled a proposed deal to privatize the county's libraries and pick up most of the tab. 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.
"It says Ashland voters are unwavering in their support of unfettered access to public libraries — and a few people's vocal distrust proved not to be a widespread belief," said Pam Vavra, co-chairwoman of the Committee to Open Ashland Library.
Library activist and former library officer Anne Billeter was ecstatic. "It validates the value Ashland places on its library and the need for the elderly to have books," she said.
Former Ashland teen librarian John Sexton said the victory — as well as the countywide defeats of library levies last May and November — "is personal; that's why the vote is so huge. Libraries are built on personal relationships."
Like scores of other employees laid off last spring because of library closures, Sexton said he would like his post back but has no indication from Library Systems and Services (LSSI), a Maryland company, whether he will be rehired or what the pay would be.
The Ashland City Council recently voted to keep the levy at 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for the rest of this fiscal year and 25 cents per $1,000 for the second year, provided the county contract with LSSI holds up.
That amount, plus the country contribution, will keep the Ashland library going 40 hours a week. The county proposal alone would have funded 24 hours a week.
After the two years, library supporters hope to have a countywide library district in place, with the power to fund all libraries.
Former librarian Ann Magill said, "I'm very pleased that Ashland came through. We led the way."
Billeter said technology is the main obstacle to getting the libraries open, with Qwest needing six weeks to get phone service up.
"I'm thrilled as a community member," said Ashland resident Cynthia Meilicke. "I was shaken by the country response (closing all libraries after the federal government cut off timber receipts last spring) and didn't know if I wanted to live here."
Florence Thomso, another resident, said, "It's great Ashland could step up to support its library."
Vavra noted that the Ashland City Council's actions early on were "a visionary response to the May vote (against library funding). Mayor (John) Morrison put it well — that nothing short of a full-service library was acceptable."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.