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Our Opinion: Stay the course

The newly elected board of Jackson County's new library district must act soon to certify a tax rate for the next year, but board members should opt for continuing the status quo for now rather than making sweeping changes too quickly, and remember that the district encompasses the entire county and all of its library branches.

The new board members take office July 1, and must certify a tax rate by July 15 so the county can collect the tax in November. Where the rate is set will determine what level of service the various libraries provide.

The ballot measure voters approved May 20 authorizes a tax rate of up to 60 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, but the rate can be less, and supporters of the measure assured voters the maximum amount would not be levied right away.

Maintaining the funding level now being provided by the county would require a rate of 44 cents per $1,000. That means 24 hours a week at the Medford main branch, 16 hours a week at medium-sized branches and eight hours a week at small branches.

Some communities have chosen to pay for extra hours of operation at their branches. Ashland residents voted to authorize 21 cents per $1,000, of which 19 cents is now collected, to keep their branch open 40 hours a week. Talent, Applegate and Ruch also pay for extended hours.

County Administrator Danny Jordan says a rate of 50 cents would cover current service levels plus the additional hours in the towns that pay extra. But the library district board should not do that.

It would not be fair to take tax money collected from everyone in the county and provide better service in some communities than in others. For the time being, the new district should pick up where the county left off, maintain service at current levels and let individual communities decide whether to continue paying for additional hours, just as they have done all along.

Later, if the board decides to increase hours, it should do so for the entire county-wide district on an equal basis.

The board also must address the question of administration, now being provided by an outside company under contract to the county. Again, the wisest course would be to continue that contractual relationship while the new board gets its bearings and studies all its options.

The county government could operate the libraries under contract to the district, or the district could choose to hire its own administrator and staff directly. There are pros and cons to all three options, and it will take time to evaluate them.

That's why the best choice is to stay with the existing system until the board has time to develop a better one.