It was once again standing room only Tuesday as about 200 people crammed into the Ford Room of the Douglas County Library in Roseburg for the second of two town hall meetings on the future of the library.
There were tears from a Glide teacher who said she “just can’t believe people failed” a library district measure earlier this month, and cheers for the father of a home-schooled girl who raised money for the library through a bake sale.
Most of the discussion Tuesday focused on proposals for keeping the county libraries open.
Voters rejected a library district, along with a 44 cents per $1,000 property tax to fund it, earlier this month. That was Plan A.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice has proposed one possible Plan B: seeking a nonprofit organization such as the Douglas County Library Foundation to take on the library.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice floated an idea to have a nonprofit organization suc…
But many commenters Tuesday expressed interest in a different Plan B: returning to the voters in May or November and asking for about half as much tax money. Some drew analogies with school levies, which voters usually reject on the first try but sometimes approve on the second. The 44 cents per $1,000 tax was based on returning the library system to full staffing and hours it enjoyed close to a decade ago. At 22 cents per $1,000, the district would collect close to the $2.1 million the library system operates on now, with reduced staff and hours.
A third Plan B generated little discussion Tuesday. It would involve letting individual cities run their own libraries.
Many of the attendees had been at the first town hall, but many faces were new. State Librarian MaryKay Dahlgreen and a Josephine County library board member both attended the meeting and suggested challenges with the Plan Bs on the table. Dahlgreen said the state, which helps fund public libraries, wouldn’t consider a nonprofit-run library a public library unless it has a contract with the county.
In response to one man’s question about whether there’s a trough of private grant money a nonprofit library could dip into, she said private grants for regular operating expenses are hard to come by.
“There is no magic trough,” she said.
The Josephine County board member said the private, nonprofit, volunteer-run district in that county is “radically different” from the Douglas County Library System. It runs on just $600,000 a year and has just four branches open fewer hours.
First results showed Douglas County voters rejecting a proposed library district
If Douglas County goes down that path, too, it can expect a year of turmoil, he said, and continual fundraising attempts.
And Josephine County plans to try again to get its voters to approve a library district.
Marty Verberkmoes of Roseburg said he voted for Plan A, but wondered if others would be more likely to approve a 34 or 22 cent tax. He said he’d like to see a survey done first, though, to see what tax level the community would support.
Mark Anderson, a retired teacher, recalled that when past school levies failed the schools went “back to the drawing board and figured out how to fix it and went back to the voters again.” Sometimes, he said they did that three times before a tax was passed.
“I think a lot of people aren’t opposed to the library. They were turned off at 44 cents. I would hate to see the system die because we voted once and quit,” Anderson said.
Gerald Gindlesperger of Umpqua, however, said he opposed any new property tax as long as many library supporters opposed cutting timber on federal lands and the Pacific Connector Pipeline, which he said would bring money into the county.
“I will continue to fight against property tax increases. I will do it tooth and nail,” he said.
There was also some discussion about what Rick Sohn called “the elephant in the room” — the fact that the county is going broke due to the loss of timber payments from the federal government. The county receives minimal property taxes compared with its northern neighbors, partly due to the federal government owning 53 percent of the land base and partly because Measures 5 and 50 made it difficult to raise the tax rate once federal timber payments dried up.
Boice said the county is spending about $15 million of its reserves each year, and can only do that for three more years before it’s not just the library but the sheriff’s department in jeopardy.
“What we’re talking about is a $15 million a year problem that this library is only one piece of,” Boice said.
Sohn said precinct voting information released this week showed the good news is the library district measure passed in the city of Roseburg. It did better in North County than South County, he said, and passed in Reedsport, Drain and Oakland.
Sohn said he was one of the people out there saying there was no Plan B because he didn’t want to consider an alternative to Plan A. Now, he’s thinking about it.
“It’s not going to be pretty, but I hope we can do better than an all-volunteer library,” he said.
Sohn said more information is needed about how much it costs to run the system branch by branch, and what kind of budget could be put together for half of Plan A’s tax rate. He said it would be worth seeking temporary operating levies, instead of the permanent tax rate of Plan A, and he proposed forming a county committee to put forward a Plan B.
Sohn also referenced a Plan C, which he said is a possible light-touch management strategy that could be used in the distant future on O&C timber lands. It’s the loss of money from harvests on those lands that has caused the county’s budget crisis.
Boice said while he hopes the libraries won’t have to close, the county will have to hold two public hearings in case they do. The first of those hearings will be at 9 a.m. Jan. 4 in Room 216 of the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg.
Boice said if a workable plan to fund the libraries is in place, the county could adjust its budget to provide bridge funding during the transition. Currently, the library budget has just enough money to fund its operations for two more months.