October 30, 2014

Jackson County, OR, Library Likely To Reopen,with Fewer Hours, Under LSSI

By Norman Oder

In a sequence far swifter than originally contemplated, Jackson County, OR, officials appear on their way to reopening the 15-branch Jackson County Library Services/, closed since April 6. Management would be provided by outsourcing company Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI), at significant savings and with about half the previous hours, nonunion employees, and a new emphasis on volunteers. Both LSSI and the employee union submitted proposals earlier this month; the county chose to negotiate solely with LSSI, then called for fewer hours at lower cost.

The $4.3 million proposal was approved unanimously August 21 by the Jackson County Budget Committee, according to the Mail Tribune, with potential approval by county commissioners on October 1. Five libraries would be open 24 hours a week; the former central library, in Medford, had been open 46 hours a week, while the next largest, in Ashland, had been open 40 hours; three others had been open 35 and 38 hours a week. Six branches, previously open 28 to 30 hours a week, would be open 16 hours a week. Four others open 18 to 28 hours a week, would be open eight hours a week. Jim Olney, executive director of the Jackson County Library Foundation, told the newspaper that, without a union contract, volunteers could do more library work.

The system, which formerly operated under a budget of $8.75 million, was closed when the county expected a federal timber payments program not to be renewed. It actually was renewed for one year after the libraries closed, providing $23 million, but county officials initially pledged not to use it for libraries. However, they changed their minds after they realized that they had enough money for limited library service over three years. As the Mail Tribune noted, the planned $4.3 million budget would be about half the sum defeated in bond measures this past May and November 2006. "The feedback we got after the [May] vote was, ‘make the system less expensive," County Administrator Danny Jordan told LJ.

Proposals emerge

On August 13, Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) released its proposal to the Mail Tribune, even though county officials were not ready to discuss the proposals. Because the bidders were asked to respond to multiple scenarios, they also offered quotes for operating each individual branch, as well as a cluster of five branches. While the union’s bid for full service was initially reported as $7.5 million and LSSI’s was $6.1 million, county officials said that LSSI’s bid actually provided even larger savings. On the other hand, LSSI assumed inflation of 3 percent over five years, while the union projected 6 percent; the county’s annual escalation is about 7 percent.

Outgoing Interim Library Director Ted Stark, who will direct the Menomonie Public Library, WI, told LJ that "it’s nearly impossible" for a union expecting public employee benefits to compete with a private company like LSSI, which offers a smaller benefit package. He also noted that LSSI, unlike the union, would not have to pay county chargebacks to other county departments for payroll and the liability risk pool.

Jordan added that LSSI, unlike the union, did not anticipate running tech services, human resources, and finance/budget out of the central library but instead would do so out of its Germantown, MD, headquarters. Branches would be given more autonomy, managed in clusters with degreed librarians at larger sites. He said the RFP required a base level of service, and that cost was less relevant than service delivery experience. LJ asked to see the two bids; they will be made available after a response to LJ’s public records request.

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