The Jackson County Library District on Thursday repealed its earlier decision to seek the maximum possible tax rate, a move that was applauded by many audience members.
“I, too, want to commend the board on reconsidering the levy,” said Pat Ashley of Eagle Point, who urged adding hours at the libraries as soon as possible.
All five district board members approved a resolution that property owners pay 52 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, rather than the full 60-cent rate approved last month. On a house with a $150,000 assessed valuation, the owner would pay $78 annually for libraries versus $90.
“I am convinced this would work at 52 cents,” said Monica Weyhe, board vice chairwoman.
Based on the district’s calculations, the lesser amount would require borrowing almost $900,000 for a short-term loan next year. In 2015, the district would have to borrow almost $500,000. By 2017, the district estimates it would have built up its ending fund balance so it wouldn’t have to borrow money.
The district is starting out in the hole because it has to reimburse Jackson County for $2.2 million for the operation of the libraries from July 1 to November, when it will collect its first property tax revenues.
Medford resident Michelle Atkinson said she supported the full 60 cents to open libraries for the most hours possible. She also said that whatever the cost per $1,000 is, the end result has been a good one for the county, which was looking at closing libraries.
“We could have been in a situation that could have been very sad,” she said.
Other county residents urged the district board to maintain the libraries as they exist now until the district can get on a firmer financial footing.
Medford resident Brad Inman said he was worried about loans to pay the bills.
“I encourage you not to borrow money unnecessarily,” he said.
The district board’s $8 million budget includes $500,000 to pay for the enhanced hours in Ashland and other communities, a decision that some audience members regarded as unjust. Ashland residents have been paying a separate levy to add the extra hours. City Administrator Dave Kanner has said it was his understanding that once the district passed, Ashland residents would stop paying the separate levy.
Medford resident Chris Durham said it is “unconscionable” that the district pay extra so that the Ashland library gets 40 hours while Medford gets 24.
“The campaign signs said, ‘Libraries for All,’ but not special treatment for some,” he said.
Ruch resident Wright Kieran said he thought the district board’s action to reduce the tax rate showed it was responsive to the citizenry. He urged the board to continue running things as they are without adding new hours until the issue could be studied more.
He also opposed adding extra hours at some branches but not all.
“There’s some kind of reverse Robin Hood scheme going on here,” Kieran said.
Ashland resident Cathy Shaw said the animosity she’s been hearing toward Ashland is unfounded.
She said the city of Ashland offered to the district that it would continue paying for the additional hours because it values providing that service to all of its citizens.
“It’s not that Ashland has more money,” she said, pointing out that there are many poor neighborhoods in her city.
She said that as far as she knew, supporters of creating the library district were careful to avoid stating a specific dollar amount when the campaign was underway.
“The amount advertised was 60 cents per $1,000,” she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.