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Ashland library committee works to meet deadline

ASHLAND — By May, library users should have a better picture of the Ashland Public Library's future and the city's role in supporting its operation.

The library advisory committee has ramped up its schedule, meeting every week instead of once a month to meet the May deadline members set for themselves to make recommendations to the City Council, said Pam Vavra, committee chairwoman.

The main options in front of the committee are extending a city levy to supplement county services or creating a separate library district, with several alternatives for boundaries. A district would have a designated source of revenue separate from the general fund, and could be based on one or more school district boundaries, city limits, or even the entire county.

"We haven't established what we would call ideal," Vavra said. "I think the ideal system is a countywide district, but I think that there's not much hope among our members that that is feasible, certainly not in the near future."

The Ashland City Council formed the committee following the successful passage of a city-only levy following the closure of all 15 Jackson County libraries for several months in 2007. Ashland's library remains under the jurisdiction of the county, but the levy funds allow the city's branch to be open more hours each week than the other libraries funded only by the county.

Jackson County uses a federal timber tax revenue subsidy to pay for libraries and other county services, but those funds were extended for just one year and their future is uncertain.

Earlier this week in Medford, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said securing the timber funds is among his highest priorities when Congress reconvenes. But that strategy has failed in Congress numerous times already.

One suggestion would be the formation of a district combining Ashland and Talent, two cities with a history of extra taxpayer support for the library. Betty Wheeler, Talent city manager, met with the committee in December and voiced concerns that Talent residents might be reluctant to make such a move.

"The concern I had was that Ashland is fairly larger than the city of Talent, so they could have the appearance of overpowering the city," Wheeler said. "It wouldn't be an equal arrangement."

However, that doesn't mean the issues couldn't be worked out, she said. The Ashland committee will continue to meet with Talent officials to explore the idea, Vavra said.

If the committee decides to forgo a district in favor of renewing the levy, they will still need to decide whether to recommend an extension until 2010 or 2012.

"We want to get in synchronization with the county," said committee member David Churchman. "Right now the two plans are running out at different times, and it complicates life. We want to work with the county."

Before they can make recommendations, they will continue to evaluate all options based on available services and financial and political feasibility.

In addition to finding a long-term solution, the Ashland City Council also charged the committee with monitoring the service provided by LSSI. As part of the deal to reopen the libraries, Jackson County contracted with LSSI, to operate its libraries and reduce the annual operating budget. LSSI is saving the county money, but the operating hours at most libraries are severely limited. Ashland and a couple other branches use additional money on their own for increased operating hours.

For now, an evaluation of LSSI has fallen down the list of priorities, Vavra said, and the committee has not yet established the criteria for evaluation. The committee plans to host a public forum to gather community input.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.