The county's plan to privatize libraries, which would open the Ashland branch 24 hours a week, may have taken some of the wind out of the sails for the city's Sept. 18 ballot measure — but it's still hard to find someone in town who's going to vote "no."

The county's plan to privatize libraries, which would open the Ashland branch 24 hours a week, may have taken some of the wind out of the sails for the city's Sept. 18 ballot measure — but it's still hard to find someone in town who's going to vote "no."

Ballots are being mailed today and the bigger problem seems to be getting a 50 percent turnout as required by state law on a special election with only one item on the ballot.

In a person-on-the-street sampling, former Ashland High School Principal Jim Bergene said the county move has him in the undecided column, as it's hard to tell how the measure would affect his taxes at this point.

The measure allows the city to collect 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, but with the county opening libraries in November at reduced cost and hours, the city says it will flex the amount downward, in order to keep Ashland's branch open at least 40 hours a week.

"Is it best to pass the levy when I don't know how it's going to affect me? I don't know," said Bergene, "but if I had to, today, I would vote for it." Like a large number of Ashlanders, Ruth Coulthard said, "I always vote 'yes.' I always want more hours. I trust the people working at the library that they're doing their best to give us the best services at the most reasonable cost.

"However," said Coulthard, "we have to respect the two votes against libraries (last November and this May) and rethink the way people are using the libraries. If people feel served, they are going to pay for them. Computers are replacing books and we're behind the times on that."

Jessie Monter said she will support the Ashland levy because libraries are "a really important part of the community. There is so much information in a book that you can't get online, and when I see libraries closed, I see the degeneration of a community."

Ruth Lizotte said she'll vote 'yes' because she doesn't like buying books that she's only going to read once — and because lots of people need the longer hours in evenings and weekends. "It's criminal that kids don't have a library. I just want to get it open and go from there."

Instead of the same cycle of tax levies and cutbacks, Lizotte said it's time for some "alternative thinking," along the lines of Ketchum, Idaho's, library, which operates at no cost to the public because it's funded by an on-site thrift shop, where patrons drop furniture, clothing, appliances and other goods for sale to run the library.

Said her friend, Jude Gabriel, "We can't rely on politicians in Medford. There's so much revenue from building there, but they don't have money for libraries. Something's fishy and we as a city need to do something on our own."

County libraries have operated with money from the county's general fund, which is underwritten largely by property taxes, not fees on construction, which typically pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvements, such as roads. The county's libraries closed in April when the federal government failed to renew a temporary county revenue subsidy meant to supplant timber taxes lost due to reduced cutting on federal lands.

The county's plan to fund libraries at significantly reduced levels, Gabriel said, "does not deter me because something has to change. It's not OK."

Sue Lopez, president of the Ashland Friends of the Library, said the county plan "confuses voters, making them think, 'Well, if the libraries are going to open, why pay extra?' But we have tremendous support and I think Ashland will vote for it. It's unfortunate it's happening the way it is (with Ashland submitting a ballot measure before learning the county plan)."

However, she noted, ballot backers are "like people who are first on the scene of a disaster. The levy is only for two years and by then libraries should have funding districts in place with all revenue dedicated only to libraries. We can't count on the county commissioners."

Anne Billeter, former Jackson County Library manager of children's and young adult services of the south region branches (Ashland, Phoenix and Talent), said the county strategy "is an additional challenge, not a crippling blow to the levy. It places us in a very sensitive situation, because of the confusion and misunderstanding "¦ and we need to get out a clear message to voters that there needs to be a 'yes' vote to keep Ashland's library at the level of service it had when it closed, rather than minimal service." Library backers have not been able to learn the hours or staffing plans for when the county begins outsourcing library management to LSSI (Library Systems and Services) of Maryland, Billeter added.

Backers are working hard to get out a 50 percent vote.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.