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Lack of timber money closes Jackson County libraries
Vote set for May 15 on $8.3 million levy to reopen libraries
Herald and News April 7, 2007

   MEDFORD (AP) — Jackson County was closing its 15 libraries Friday because the accustomed federal timber payments used to sustain them are in doubt, and in many towns the closures were marked with bittersweet observances.
   In Eagle Point, Carole Mercer carefully removed embroidered jeans and tennis shoes Thursday from the local branch where they had been on display in honor of her daughter. Mercer’s donated $100,000 to help build the two-year-old branch. Her 20-year-old daughter, Sarah Ann, died in 1997. Mercer also removed her portrait.
   ‘‘I cannot bear to leave my daughter’s memory in a closed library,’’ said Mercer. ‘‘I’m really trying hard not to be bitter and caustic about this.’’
   Closure chosen
   County commissioners decided on the closures after Congress failed to renew the timber payments program that paid the county $23 million a year. Other agencies also will see cutbacks, and several counties with federal timber land are slashing jobs and services.
   The last Storytime
   As Mercer packed up her daughter’s memorial, two dozen youngsters filed through the door to attend the popular Storytime, the last before closure.
   Last year 900 kids in the town of about 5,500 signed up for the summer program.
   ‘‘It’s sad that this is being done,’’ said Rose Malone, who brought her 5-year-old grandson, Jarrett.
   But she said she is reluctant to vote for a three-year levy on May 15 that would give $8.3 million annually to reopen the libraries.
   ‘‘I don’t want to pay any more taxes,’’ she said. ‘‘There seems to be quite a bit of waste in government.’’
   She said she doesn’t know if that applies to libraries.
   Mercer said some residents say libraries are unnecessary in the Internet age, but as she spoke, children and adults were using computers funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
SOU library to stay open
   Teresa Montgomery, interim director of SOU’s Hannon library in Ashland, said it would remain open to the public, although people wishing to check out books would have to buy a ‘‘Friends of the Library’’ card, at $35 for a year’s privileges.
   ‘‘But we are an academic library and we don’t have the same materials as the county libraries,’’ she said, citing children’s’ services as an example.
   She said SOU student needs such as computer access would have to come first.
   Passage of the May 15 levy requires a ‘‘double majority’’ in which at least half of the registered voters must turn out and half or more of those must approve it, a requirement that has scuttled many tax proposals in recent years.
   Protests across county
   In Ashland, a ‘‘Mad Tea Party’’ was planned on the library lawn. Patrons were encouraged to wear costumes, drink tea and read. A ceremony was planned to lower the flag and turn off the lights.
   In Talent, costumed book characters planned appearances holding signs asking support for the levy. Patrons could sign a large card reading, ‘‘Too bad you’re closing. Reopen soon.’’
   County Commissioner C.W. Smith said the county checked with State Librarian Jim Scheppke, who said Oregon law forbids public libraries to charge for cards and still get public money .
   ‘‘Any public library that did so would cease to be a public library under Oregon law,’’ Scheppke wrote to the county.
   The library system had been getting $8 million a year from the county. To raise that amount, each of the 40,000 cardholders would have to be willing to pay $200 a year.
   The U.S. Senate has authorized a plan to continue the payments through 2011, but it is attached to an emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush has vowed to veto it because it contains a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
   Timber law expired
   The timber law expired last year. Efforts to reauthorize it have been frustrated by budget constraints and concerns that Oregon gets too much money under the current formula.
   Because more than half of the state’s land is federally owned, Oregon got more than half the money distributed nationally last year.
   Under the Senate plan Oregon’s share would decrease gradually to a total 28 percent of the overall program in 2011.

AP photo
Ashland Police Sgt. Malcus Williams escorts the youngest members of children’s sit-in out of the Ashland library. Williams, in a pre-arranged agreement with the protesters, escorted about 20 children who refused to leave after the library closed Friday afternoon. All Jackson County libraries closed Friday due to a lack of funds
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