New library district must decide on hours, tax rate
The race is on to iron out details for Jackson County's new library district, including the hours of operation for libraries and the exact tax rate to fund services.
Voters approved the district on May 20, and its newly elected, five-member board of directors will take office on July 1.
Board member Maureen Swift said she and other members realize there is a great deal of work ahead.
"We've gone from, 'Oh! We've got a district!' to 'Oh. We've got a district,' " she said.
But Swift said board members and other library supporters are looking forward to transitioning to a system in which libraries have stable funding.
Last year, before receiving updated budget news, county officials predicted smaller library branches would have to close this year and the main Medford branch would close the following year. That prompted library supporters to put the library district proposal before voters.
Swift said voter approval of the library district has ended wild fluctuations in library funding.
"It will be interesting to see what happens," she said. "We're going to tackle it with a great deal of joy because we're just so happy this has happened."
Voters authorized a tax rate of up to 60 cents per $1,000 in assessed value for the district. It will be up to the board to decide how much of the tax to levy.
In 2007, libraries across the county closed for six months because of a lack of funding. They reopened with limited funding and hours.
Funding from Jackson County government has been equivalent to 44 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, which has allowed small libraries to open for eight hours per week, medium libraries to operate for 16 hours each week and larger libraries to run for 24 hours each week, said County Administrator Danny Jordan.
Several communities, including Ashland, Talent, Applegate and Ruch, provide supplemental funding to keep their libraries open longer.
A tax rate of about 50 cents per $1,000 in assessed value would be equal to the basic funding the county was providing plus those supplemental payments from communities, Jordan said. Not all libraries would be open for 40 hours per week, however.
Ashland has used supplemental funding to keep its library running 40 hours per week, while Applegate library is open 12 hours a week. The Medford branch — the largest in the county — is open 24 hours a week.
With the district board needing to certify a tax rate by July 15, Swift said it may not have time to change the hours and services covered in the county's fiscal year budget that goes into effect on July 1.
"I don't know if there's enough time to do other than continue on the path the county is on," Swift said.
The new library district doesn't have any money of its own for this summer, because tax bills don't go out until November. Established local governments carry over funds from previous years to fill the gap between the start of their fiscal years on July 1 and the time they receive tax revenue.
"The county could front the cost and bill the district," Jordan suggested.
County officials and new library district board members plan to meet and begin hammering out myriad details.
In addition to deciding large issues such as library hours and the tax rate, the new board will have to do everything from setting governing ordinances and policies to learning how to give advance notice of public meetings in order to meet public meetings laws, Jordan said.
"There's a lot of complexity to it," he said.
— Vickie Aldous
Read more in Saturday's paper.