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County seeks cities' help paying for library staffing expenses, but the cities have financial problems of their own

WANTED: MONEY TO RUN LIBRARIES

— Jackson County commissioners are asking cities for money to help offset planned budget reductions that will lead to shorter hours at new libraries.

In a letter approved by commissioners Wednesday, cities are urged to consider funding a portion of staff expenses at their local libraries.

Cities such as Jacksonville and Rogue River recently celebrated the opening of new libraries funded by &

36;38.9 million in voter-approved bonds. Another new library in downtown Medford is scheduled to open by November.

At the same time, Jackson County plans to cut &

36;584,395 from the library system's operational budget request for 2003-04.

— The letter says: Several years ago, when times were good, our voters approved a significant bond measure to build a library in your city. We owe it to them to keep it staffed until good times return.

The proposal to cut the library system's request by 7.7 percent was based on the county's need to trim its budget and to prepare for more funding holes in the future.

It's not that we're against the library people, said Commissioner Dave Gilmour. We just have tremendous financial problems.

If a city helped fund its own library, the same staffing and hours of operation could be maintained.

The goal is to keep the library services where they are, he said.

Unfortunately, he said libraries in unincorporated areas like White City wouldn't benefit from the proposal.

Gilmour said it is particularly ironic that communities have paid for new libraries but there won't be sufficient money to properly staff them.

There is a real disconnect in Oregon between capital funding sources and operating funding sources, he said.

Responding to news of the county's request, Betty Wheeler, city manager in Talent, said, Oh yeah, we have lots of money. I just cut a police officer so I don't know how inclined I'd be to help out.

Medford City Manager Mike Dyal said county commissioners should submit their request before the city's budget committee, while noting the city is cutting &

36;1.5 million out of its own budget.

Ashland City Administrator Gino Grimaldi

said next year's budget shows the city spending more than it's taking in, which will mean cuts in some programs to keep other programs going.

There is no spare cash waiting to be allocated, he said.

Not having received the county letter yet, Grimaldi said, We'd want to see the impact before we can make a final decision.

County Library Director Ronnie Budge anticipates she will have to cut 9 percent of her 95 full-time staff members, but she hasn't determined what impact that will have on the hours of operation at the 15 libraries.

We will do our best to maximize the hours that we're open to the public, she said.

Budge said there are no plans to close any facilities because of the budget problem.

There will be no consolidation of libraries, she said.

Completion dates The following is a schedule of completion for 14 new or renovated libraries in Jackson County paid for by voter-approved bonds. A 15th library, in White City, was built with urban renewal funds.

Applegate: open.

Ashland: open.

Jacksonville: open.

Medford: November.

Ruch: open.

Rogue River: open

Eagle Point, Central Point, Gold Hill and Prospect: late 2004.

Phoenix, Talent, Butte Falls and Shady Cove: late 2006.

Medford library construction superintendents John Yeoman, left, and Gene Tivnan, of general contractor S.D. Deacon Corp., work to solve a problem on the building?s electrical window-shade installation Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli