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Second chapter improves on first

Libraries' new, slimmed-down plan is better by more than half

When a committee on county library funding suggested in March that libraries might look to taxpayers for money, the doubters were vocal and many.

The proposal was in response to news the county might lose $24 million annually from the federal government. But the committee wanted to ask for even more than libraries spend now, enough to raise their budgets to $13.35 million annually. That's approaching twice today's $8.6 million.

No wonder the idea landed with a thud.

Last week, though, the committee emerged with a plan that's much more in line with what libraries actually need to maintain the status quo &

8212; and more in line with what voters may be willing to support. It would seek about half the original amount, raising taxpayer bills by $132 annually on a home assessed at $200,000 compared with $236 annually under the first proposal.

That the committee listened to the vibe of the community is reason itself for voters to give this plan a respectful hearing. But more important is this: The money sought in this plan looks like just enough to keep libraries doing what they've been doing all along. The cheaper proposal should make the decision a no-brainer for library fans. What about all that money the county spends on libraries now? It looks more likely all the time that it will be in short supply as of 2007.

The money, distributed to counties with large stands of public timber in compensation for taxes lost because of that land, is being debated by Congress. But sources inside say approval doesn't look likely: Natural disasters and the war in Iraq are eating too much of the budget.

A bill approved by the House last week would provide $50 million, one-ninth of the $450 million timber counties nationally received last year. If that bill is successful and if Jackson County receives one-ninth of its current share, it will have far too little to run libraries and the sheriff's department, the biggest consumers of the county budget. Libraries would lose funding in the middle of 2007, and money would run out before a new proposal could be planned.

This latest proposal represents boosters' attempt to avoid that. They want to assure the county's 15 libraries will stay open if the federal money goes away. They've even promised to lower the new tax if they get a share of the federal money.

Last year, losing it seemed like a relatively unlikely outcome. This year a different message is emerging from Congress: Less money for counties is a matter of not if but when.