No dramatic increase in library hours should be expected until a newly formed library district hammers out a budget and decides how much it needs to charge in property taxes.
"We would like to get some additional hours soon," said Carol Doty, a library board member. "I don't think we will get to as many as we want."
The Jackson County Library District board will hold its first meeting at 9:30 a.m. today at the Jackson County Courthouse, 10 S. Oakdale Ave. The district was formed with the passage of Ballot Measure 15-122 in May.
The board immediately will wrestle with whether to charge the full 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation allowed by the measure, even though supporters during the campaign said the full amount wouldn't be charged immediately.
Doty said she didn't want to vote for a resolution authorizing the full 60 cents, preferring to file an extension until Aug. 15 when the budget numbers are crunched.
Because of the timing of the formation of the district, Jackson County will continue to pay for library operations out of its own revenues until November.
The library district will begin collecting taxes in November, but it will have to reimburse the county for essentially loaning money in the meantime.
A tax rate of roughly 52 cents per $1,000 in assessed value could pay for the current level of service plus cover supplemental payments made by some communities, Jackson County officials have calculated.
"I understand that one of the major goals is to pick up extra hours so the communities don't have to raise the money," Doty said.
The 52-cent assessment also would allow the library district to reimburse the county through November, as well as fund its budget through next year and create a fund balance at the end of 2015.
After the first year, the library district could decrease the amount assessed, depending on how many hours are added at branches.
However, if the library board decides to increase hours, the 52-cent rate might not be enough.
Doty said she would like to see an additional eight hours at the Medford library in the near term. The Medford branch is currently open 24 hours a week. Ashland is open 40 hours a week, thanks to a supplemental local levy.
In 2007, libraries across the county closed for six months because of a lack of funding. They reopened with limited funding and hours.
Doty said local communities such as Talent and Ashland have contributed more than $500,000 to add hours in their communities.
Hours at all of the county libraries currently add up to 308 per week, but prior to Jackson County funding problems, libraries were open 481 hours.
"We have to have the time to look at this carefully," Doty said.
Despite the reduced hours, the libraries are still popular.
"We've exceeded pre-closure circulation levels," said Kim Wolfe, director of Jackson County libraries.
In 2012-13, 1.6 million items were checked out, compared with 1.4 million in 2005-06, she said.
Wolfe said it's hard to predict how much library usage would increase if hours were added.
"More hours means more services, which means more use," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.