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Commissioners move ahead on library district proposal

The Josephine County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday took another step toward sending a proposal to form an independent library district to voters. The next step is a public hearing scheduled for Jan 25.

Commissioners also agreed to send a measure to the May ballot that would renew a tax levy for the county's Animal Protection program, at the same rate that was approved by voters nearly three years ago.

If voters eventually say yes, the library district would have the authority to levy up to 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on properties within the boundaries of the proposed district.

Geographically, however, most of the county would not be in the district. Instead, the district would include only Grants Pass and Cave Junction plus some unincorporated areas in Wolf Creek and Williams, where library branches are also located.

The current library system is not a typical public library. Instead, it is operated by a nonprofit organization called Josephine Community Libraries that formed after the county library system was closed in the wake of budget cuts a decade ago.

Josephine Community Libraries currently operates on a budget of about $800,000, one-third of its budget when it still received county funding. It is able to stay afloat mainly on the efforts of more than 300 volunteers.

Hours at the Grants Pass branch are only 24 hours a week, with considerably fewer hours at the branches in Cave Junction, Wolf Creek and Williams. Supporters say the budget to acquire new materials is far below what it should be.

A proposal in 2014 to form an independent district that would have included the entire county was defeated at the ballot box. The new proposal includes only areas that favored the earlier measure.

"Most of the county is not included," Commissioner Cherryl Walker noted. "If you're not in the district, you don't pay (the tax)."

Commissioner Simon Hare, who said he visits the library in Grants Pass about once a month, said it's a popular place — almost too popular.

"It's crazy," he said. "It is packed. It's people of all walks of life."

JCL Director Kate Lasky gave a detailed presentation, after which Hare told her she'd probably have to repeat it when Lily Morgan and Dan DeYoung take over for Walker and Commissioner Keith Heck after the first of the year on the three-member board.

Commissioners approved an order stating their intention to form an independent district, and set a public hearing about the library proposal for Jan. 25.

In contrast to Lasky's extended presentation, Public Health Director Diane Hoover took a minute to ask for renewal of the current levy of 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The new levy would span five years, compared with the current three-year term that expires next summer. Commissioners agreed to put the measure on the May 16 ballot.

Heck and Hare both said the difference is "night and day" between animal protection and shelter operations now versus four years ago.

"There's been substantial improvements and changes," Hare said.

Walker had praise for animal care, officer training and a "phenomenal" adoption program.

"The credit goes to your volunteers and staff," she told Hoover.

— Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or shall@thedailycourier.com