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Since You Asked: Take the library to the levy

Please help. I am confused. I understand there will be a library levy on the ballot this May. I heard that the levy funds, if passed, will be exclusively for the libraries. I also have heard that these funds may actually be put to other use at the county commissioners' discretion. Can you clear this up for me? Thanks.

— Liz N., Medford

Technically, if the three-year library levy passes in May, the additional tax revenue could be used for other Jackson County departments.

But the members of the county's board of commissioners have pledged to earmark the funds for library operations only, said Commissioner C.W. Smith. While commissioners unanimously agreed in February to safeguard taxes raised by the library levy, they can't guarantee the actions of future boards, Smith said. But, the levy only lasts three years so there's an excellent chance it would stick with the library.

Approving a special tax district is the only way voters can secure dedicated funding for libraries, Smith said. Such districts, which are governed by their own elected boards, already exist in Coos and Curry counties, Smith said. Although those two counties, like Jackson, face budget cuts because Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act, their libraries are not slated to close.

Commissioners are examining the viability of a special library district here, as well as alternatives, Smith said.

"We're looking at all kinds of facets," he said.

The current library funding proposal would raise $8.3 million annually for three years if voters approve it in May. Property owners would pay 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, adding $110.22 in taxes annually on a house with an assessed value of $167,000, the county average. Since it's not a general election, 50 percent of registered voters must turn out for the election and a majority of those must vote yes for a property tax to pass.

Voters rejected a similar levy in November. In 2000, however, a double-majority passed a $38.9 million bond measure to build new libraries. The library system is set to close April 6.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.