Medford may offer levy on library hours

Officials may ask for a May levy to keep it open longer, but want feedback from residents first

MEDFORD — City officials are considering putting a levy before voters as soon as May to extend the Central Library's hours. But first the City Council has some questions for the county and the company hired to manage the 15-branch Jackson County Library System, said Jason Anderson, City Council president.

"Before going to voters, I think we need to know exactly what we would get," said Anderson, adding that May would be the earliest such a measure could be on that ballot.

The council is scheduled to meet in a noon study session with County Administrator Danny Jordan Oct. 25 in Room 151, Lausmann Annex, 200 S. Ivy St. Anderson said the council also has invited representatives from Library Systems and Services LLC, or LSSI, to the table. LSSI is operating the library system under a contract approved by county commissioners in September.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler said there would be a public hearing before any formal decision about a levy.

The Central Library, due to open in two weeks, is scheduled for 24 hours per week, which Anderson said he personally doesn't think is enough.

"The bigger question is what do the citizens of Medford think is enough, and what are they willing to pay for?" he said.

Ashland and Talent will augment their cities' library hours through community support, and other communities are discussing similar proposals. Medford's council has been criticized by Jackson County commissioners for not being part of more discussions about kicking in funds.

Anderson said the council has a responsibility to review options and ensure funds raised through a levy would go for what voters think they would be going for.

"If any county commissioner wants to fault us for going slow ... I'm willing to take that criticism," he said.

Mayor Wheeler said the council has waited to see if the county was going to go with LSSI. He said it was inappropriate to engage in this conversation with the county until now.

"Before the county contracted with LSSI we had no financial information at all," he said.

The library buildings and books are county owned, and Wheeler wants assurances before asking residents to fund additional staff hours.

Wheeler said LSSI has outlined costs, such as four-hour increment amounts to extend library hours. It's time for the council as a group to consider options and then seek public input.

"I think we need to get our thoughts in order," he said.

Medford City Councilman Jim Kuntz said he's not convinced Medford residents would support a levy to boost hours. He said 12 of Medford's 13 precincts voted no on library levies — twice — in November and May.

"I just don't see the voters in Medford wanting to pass a levy to increase the hours," he said. "Right now the message is pretty clear."

Kuntz said he doesn't want to make a quick decision about additional support for the library.

"I think the council should wait and see what's going on and how it works," he said, adding that 24 hours of operation per week may prove to be sufficient.

Medford City Councilman Al Densmore said he would like the city and county to work together and explore all the ways to expand hours.

"We feel like we've been accused of being unresponsive," he said. "Let's just be constructive and see how we can resolve this."

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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