The closure of Jackson County's libraries continues to dominate public concerns about county government even though the libraries have reopened and appear to be operating well, participants in a series of recent town hall meetings say.

The closure of Jackson County's libraries continues to dominate public concerns about county government even though the libraries have reopened and appear to be operating well, participants in a series of recent town hall meetings say.

"It is still a concern and a hot topic," said Lynn Howe, a member of Citizens for County Solutions.

Five town hall meetings on community involvement in county government were held in Ashland, Eagle Point, Rogue River, Ruch and Medford. They drew 300 to 400 people in September and October. They were sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Ashland and Medford, the American Association of University Women, Medford and Ashland chapters and the Citizens for County Solutions.

Howe made her presentation before county commissioners Dave Gilmour and C.W. Smith, who attended some of the town hall meetings.

She said the suggestions from citizens ranged from no more taxes to increasing taxes and from no longer relying on the federal government for revenues to pushing for more federal dollars.

A major topic was the county's reliance on $23 million annually from the federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. The money, which helps counties that once received substantial income from federal forestry, was cut, forcing the closure of libraries.

A one-year extension gave the county enough money to reopen libraries for up to three years by outsourcing their operation to a private company. Libraries were reopened at about half the cost and half the number of previous hours.

Though some residents suggested cutting some county services, Howe said most people wanted good roads, good libraries, public safety and public health.

"People said we shouldn't have to choose," she said. A report summarizing the town hall meetings finds the commissioners need to overcome the public's distrust of government, have more outreach to the public and have more transparency.

One of the suggestions is to have videos of county meetings online, but Smith said the county has already been offering that service for several years on its Web site.

He said the county will continue to work on making the Web site more user friendly.

Smith, who announced Wednesday he will seek re-election, said many rural communities feel left out of the decision-making process and he vowed to hold commissioner meetings in small towns throughout the county.

"We are looking at having meetings elsewhere," he said, citing specifically schools in Rogue River, Central Point and Ashland.

Shayne Maxwell, a member of the Jackson County Budget Committee, said the county's budget is complicated and difficult to explain to the public.

But after serving on the committee for several years she said many departments are operating with half their former staff. Based on her assessment, she said, "There are no unessential services. They are all essential."

Gilmour said he appreciated the town hall effort and said it should continue.

"We certainly have to do a better job," he said.

Ashland resident Don Ellsworth said he appreciates the effort behind reopening libraries. But he said too many residents continue to push for more taxes rather than urging more use of the resources of the county to generate money, such as increased logging or more agricultural enterprises.

"The only thing I've heard is let's pay more taxes — we've got to do something different than that," he said.

After the presentation on the town hall meetings, Ellsworth pointed out that most of the 40 audience members didn't stick around to hear the commissioners discuss other county business.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.