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Local editorial

Taxing district raises questions Sure, we love our libraries, but give us more information on the proposal

In the Jackson County we'd like to live in, libraries would be open every day and readers would have easy access to new books.

We'd have a great service, in other words, to go with the great new buildings housing the county's 15 book collections. It only seems right.

But many questions remain about the proposal an advisory committee is floating this spring to make sure that great library service can happen.

The Jackson County Library Advisory Committee has asked the county's Board of Commissioners to ask voters in November to create a special taxing district for the library.

It would collect ' indefinitely ' &

36;1.18 for each &

36;1,000 of assessed valuation from homeowners, or &

36;236 a year on a &

36;200,000 house.

We're withholding judgment at this point on creation of the district because we, along with other county residents, will certainly need more information before making a decision.

— For starters, let's talk about the money it would replace. This is the much-discussed federal timber money the county receives every year. About &

36;24 million annually is in question as Congress debates whether to eliminate part or all of it.

Without it Jackson County would be strapped, no doubt, and money for library operations and the sheriff's budget would be in question.

But it isn't clear yet the county will lose the money. A proposal from the Bush administration would keep 60 percent of it coming for five more years. Oregon's congressional delegation is lobbying for more.

This request also represents what the county has now, plus some. The committee proposes boosting the library budget 55 percent, to &

36;13.35 million, in the district's first year. With the new money, it would increase library hours and the book budget by about 50 percent.

We like the sound of that, but we wonder whether this is the time to not only replace the budget but raise it by half. If the federal funding goes, the Sheriff's Department is likely to be in need as well. In Medford, the school district is considering a huge request to cover the cost of new buildings. The library request wouldn't be the only one on the ballot.

Backers of the new district make the point that libraries need stable funding with or without the federal money, something a district separate from other county operations would assure. We don't question that logic.

We endorsed the library's &

36;38.9 million construction bond in 2000, and we support keeping those buildings open however it has to be done.

But it's not clear yet that it has to be done in this way, now and with the increases the committee has suggested.

County Commissioner Dave Gilmour greeted the committee's presentation recently with this assessment: It's going to be a tough sell.

We agree, and we think if the committee expects taxpayers to buy, a lot more information will have to make it into voters' hands before November.