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April 18, 2006 $1.18 per $1,000 will be up to voters in November By Vickie Aldous Ashland Daily Tidings Voters could be asked to approve a Jackson County Library District that would cost $354 each year for the owner of a home assessed at $3

Voters could be asked to approve a Jackson County Library District that would cost $354 each year for the owner of a home assessed at $300,000.

The Jackson County Library Advisory Committee has recommended a property tax rate of $1.18 per $1,000 in assessed value.

On May 2, the Ashland City Council is scheduled to consider whether to pass a resolution for the city to be included in the vote over a new library district.

Voters throughout the county ultimately must decide whether to approve the library district in the fall election.

Ashland could stay out of the library district, but if the funding measure passed, the city would not receive any money and would have to fund the Ashland Public Library on its own.

The entire Jackson County library system, which includes the Ashland branch, is faced with a loss of funding if Congress does not reauthorize Oregon California Railroad payments, according to County Library Director Ronnie Budge.

In previous years, the federal government has made payments to rural counties to offset the loss of property tax revenues from large federal land holdings in the counties, but that funding is in jeopardy in the face of a large federal budget deficit.

The proposed $1.18 tax rate would not just maintain the status quo for county libraries.

The operating hours would increase by an average of 40 percent, the book acquisitions budget would go up by 50 percent and libraries would add other services, such as more outreach to introduce books to infants, toddlers, preschoolers and students, according to Budge.

Since the tax rate would be permanent, she said the library advisory committee tried to develop a figure that would account for future growth in costs as well.

At the same time, the tax rate must be acceptable to a majority of voters, Budge said.

&

They absolutely need to make every effort to understand the wishes of the people who may not care as much about libraries as they do,&

she said, noting that there will be many opportunities for public input before the tax rate proposal is finalized.

Library Advisory Committee member Jim Fety of Rogue River said the committee, library staff members and a consultant spent two years studying the issue and developing the tax rate proposal.

&

It would be nice if the dollar amount was less, but in looking over what we have to do to make a library system that is adequate and acceptable and the kind of service patrons need and deserve, it&

s got to be $1.18,&

he said.

Ashland City Councilor Russ Silbiger said the library tax district proposal may come up in the fall when a school repair bond and a bond for Fire Station No. 2 could be before Ashland voters as well.

&

I think it will make for an interesting discussion,&

he said. &

The library certainly is a value to the community, but that&

s a lot of money.&

Fety said he hopes Ashlanders will maintain their support for libraries even if they are faced with two other measures that could increase their property taxes.

&

I would hope the traditional Ashland values of supporting the community will prevail,&

he said.

In neighboring Josephine County, residents are circulating petitions to put an initiative on the fall ballot for the formation of a Josephine County library district. That district would have a property tax rate of 55 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or $55 per $100,000 in assessed value, according to Whitney Lard, coordinator of the signature-gathering volunteers.

Residents there are faced with the closure of three of four branch libraries and a reduction in hours to three days a week at the remaining branch. Funding could be lost altogether in 2007, Lard said.

Residents of Jackson County do not have to gather signatures because Jackson County Commissioners have agreed to consider putting the library district measure before voters, according to Budge.

Jackson County voters approved a countywide $39 million bond in 2000 to build and expand libraries. Those funds cannot be used for library operations, she said.

The Jackson County library system has 15 branches and an approximately $8 million operating budget this fiscal year. More than 125,000 adults and children in the county use their local libraries each year &

borrowing 1.45 million items, asking 220,000 reference questions and booking more than 220,000 sessions on library computers, according to Budge and the library advisory committee.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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