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MailTribune.com
  • Library board checks out funding options

    Full tax rate, financial 'gift' from county considered as district gets jump-started
  • Anewly formed library district board has debated whether to ask Jackson County commissioners to contribute $800,000 to help out the fledgling organization during its first year.
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  • Anewly formed library district board has debated whether to ask Jackson County commissioners to contribute $800,000 to help out the fledgling organization during its first year.
    "It would be a welcome gift," said Carol Doty, who sought the county contribution after she was sworn in as a library district board member Thursday morning.
    The three other board members present rejected the idea, saying the district should live up to its promise of becoming financially independent. They also viewed it as a possible stumbling block in ongoing negotiations with the county.
    "It's not a logical option at this point," said board member Maureen Swift. "We've been clearly told there is no appetite in county government for it."
    The library district was formed July 1 with the passage of Ballot Measure 15-122, designed to provide a permanent source of funding for all 15 branches after county budget woes threatened closures. Passed May 20, the measure allows the district to tax Jackson County property owners full tax rates up to 60 cents per $1,000 in assessed value each year.
    The board hopes to increase hours and assume the more than $500,000 that Ashland, Talent and other communities pay to supplement hours at their branches.
    The district will rely on Jackson County to fund libraries until it can start collecting property tax revenue in November, although the county expects to be reimbursed.
    Because of the delay, the district will need to fund 17 months of operations out of 12 months' worth of revenues even as it tries to increase hours.
    "We don't have a penny in our bank account," said Jill Turner, newly elected president of the board. "We don't even have a bank account."
    Doty hoped the county would continue to funnel $800,000 in state video lottery dollars to libraries, at least for one more year.
    Otherwise, Doty said, the library district might have to levy the full 60 cents per $1,000 in its first year to pay for all the start-up costs.
    "I thought this was a way the county and the district could get off on a good footing," Doty said.
    She said it could be a public relations issue for the library board to seek the maximum assessment during the first year. Library supporters had made promises to voters during the campaign that they wouldn't immediately tap into the full assessment.
    "I think it's going to be a problem for us," Doty said.
    Despite her fellow board members rejecting the idea, Doty said she would meet with county commissioners to see whether they would make the donation for the first year of the district's operation.
    County Administrator Danny Jordan told the library board that the county general fund budget would be $7 million short if the library district had not been formed. With the district footing the bill for libraries, the county will still have a $1 million shortfall, he said.
    If the county provided the district with $800,000, the county would be in a bigger financial hole, Jordan said.
    The county and the new district are working on an agreement that will allow the county to continue administrative functions since the district doesn't have any hired staff. The agreement will spell out how the county will be repaid for its services during this interim period.
    Jordan said the county is operating in "good faith" as it tries to help the district through its formation and will continue to offer administrative help despite having no agreement in place.
    "The county's intent is not to make money off the library district," he said.
    The county will continue to own the library buildings and all materials, including books, until 2020.
    Jordan said that if he is still county administrator in 2020, he would recommend to the board that the library buildings and other assets be turned over to the district rather than charging a lease for the buildings.
    On its first official day, the board also got a hefty dose of advice about adhering closely to public meeting laws.
    Jordan told the board he had concerns that members were exchanging emails, which could be construed as making decisions without properly notifying the public. Also, he told the board it needs to properly announce the time and place for interviews for candidates to select a lawyer that will represent them.
    "I don't want to see you guys get in trouble for facilitating a decision that should be made in public," Jordan said.
    The board, which will have training on public meetings laws in the future, was frequently correctedduring the meeting by Jordan as to procedures and other issues.
    The board members appeared to appreciate that they needed to educate themselves better about public meeting laws.
    "We're going to have to stop meeting with ourselves through email," Turner said to the other board members.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.
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