I’m sure you are aware that there will be an opportunity to vote for or against a proposed taxing district on the ballot for the November election. This is happening because the Douglas County Library like many other county provided services has been subject to significant and continued budget cuts as a result of decreased revenues to the county. The decreased revenues are the direct result of reduced logging on O&C Timber lands and the reduction and eventual discontinuation of the “Safety-Net” funding that substituted for actual harvest revenues for so many years.
The taxing district is being proposed by a group of concerned citizens who believe that libraries are an essential part of a community and should remain publicly funded in order to provide access to those who need it the most. I think most agree about the need and want to continue to provide library services, the question really is how are we going to pay for it. Your county commissioners have agreed to put the proposal on the ballot because we want you, the voters of Douglas County, to answer that question.
There are many questions being asked about the proposed tax: What does this mean to the average home owner? Of the 44 cents per $1,000 proposed tax, what level of funding does this provide the library? In other words, what will I get for my money? How many users does the library have? Are there studies to show the impacts to a community with or without a library? Will everyone in the county have to pay, and if so, will they pay equally? Who will be in charge of the money and management of the library if the district passes? What is compression, and who will be affected by it? Why aren’t there exact numbers available to demonstrate the cost of compression? Why does it seem like public safety and law enforcement are at stake? What other options have been considered?
It is my intention to provide factual information to these questions without advocating for, or against, the proposed taxing district.
If the taxing district passes, owners of private property in Douglas County will be taxed at a rate of 44 cents per thousand dollars of property value. For example, a home owner with a home valued at $150,000.00 would be taxed an additional $66 per year. Some suggest that only property owners will be stuck with the bill, but it is likely that those increased costs will also be paid by renters and consumers as rents and prices of goods and services go up to cover the additional tax expense to the property or business owner.
The level of funding provided by the taxing district if successful will be approximately 4 million dollars per year. It is difficult to ascertain an exact number and we’ll get into that a bit later. My understanding of the logic behind the proposal is that a study was done to determine: 1. When the library was operating at the desired level including hours of operation of all branches, 2. What the cost to operate at that level were when it was taking place and 3. what is the expected increased cost associated with inflation? If the taxing district passes, the anticipated revenue is supposed to increase hours of operation back to that desired level.
The library currently has approximately 8,500 library card holders in Douglas County, but that is not representative of how many people actually use the library as you only have to have a library card to borrow materials. There are many materials, services and programs that the library provides county wide that do not require a library card.
Materials and services available at the library include audiobooks on CD, graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, foreign language materials, reference materials such as auto repair manuals, consumer information, free public Wi-Fi and computers for internet research, job application acquisition and submission, resume building, and email checking. There is also the ability to do microfilm research of historical news articles from 1867 to 2014. There are children’s PCs available with educational games. There are also many resources that the library provides that you can access from home through their website, programs that you can attend in person for adults and children, and space available for study or meeting rooms, etc.
There are around 600 different programs available for people of all ages to attend that include things like Preschool Storytime, After School Programs, Book Clubs and various workshops. Statistics show that approximately 15,000 users took advantage of these programs in the last year.
The question regarding impacts to communities with and without libraries is a good one. I have seen studies that suggest a significant impact and some that suggest that it is more difficult to attract skilled workers to communities with no libraries. It is very difficult to substantiate claims either way. I encourage you to do your own study on this.
If the taxing district passes, not everyone in the county will have to pay the tax. There are a couple reasons for this. They are the fact that there are two cities in the county that have “opted out” of the district. The cities are Sutherlin and Elkton so the people who live within the city limits of those cities will not be taxed. The other reason that not everyone will have to pay is due to compression. Compression is a little complicated, but the bottom line is that the voters of the State of Oregon passed a ballot initiative to limit the amount of property tax that can be assessed by local governments in the State of Oregon to $10 per thousand dollars of property value. There are areas within three cities in Douglas County that are already at that limit. Those areas are within the city limits of Roseburg, Winston and Reedsport. The citizens within those areas are already at the limit, so any new tax passed in those areas will trigger a “compression” situation. Compression is where a new tax is squeezed in under the $10 limit so that all other taxing districts applied to those particular properties receive proportionally less money. The property owner will still pay the same $10 per thousand, but the affected taxing districts will have to divide up their respective shares of that revenue with each one getting less.
Why doesn’t anyone know what the cost of compression will be to the other districts and to the county? That is because of the difficult nature of the assessor’s job. Basically, to get an exact answer, the assessor would have to artificially apply the tax to every taxable property in the county and “turn the roll” which means process the annual application of the taxes to the entire county to get the answer, and then reverse it to get things back to “normal.” It just isn’t a simple process.
Public safety and law enforcement are paid for out of local government’s general funds. General funds are dollars that are collected from tax revenues and other sources that don’t come with strings attached. They are discretionary in nature and typically are allocated to the “wants” of the citizens. These are things like law enforcement, fire services, parks, libraries, museums, etc. At the county, 100 percent of all property tax dollars collected have historically been allocated to the sheriff’s office, so any reduction in property tax dollars as a result of compression will affect that budget. The cities are in much the same situation. Any reduction in their general funds as a result of compression will reduce dollars available to spend on those departments. Citizens may be asked to approve operating tax levies in the future to replace lost revenues for law enforcement or other services.
I’m sure that you are all aware that there have been “Save Our Libraries” stickers on the backs of cars in this community for a very long time. This is again a result of reduced revenues from reductions in timber receipts promised to counties from the harvest of trees on the O&C forest lands that were designated to be managed specifically to provide revenues for these types of services. Lots of alternatives have been considered over the years including a user pay models, privatization, nonprofit operation, leasing parts of the facility to Borders Books, Barnes and Noble, or Starbucks or the like, and there are more. There are arguments about the validity of all of the proposals. A user pay model likely does not have enough users to support the cost and the people who need the service the most, undoubtedly have the least ability to pay. Privatization has been done elsewhere, and even studied here and the models that are out there privatize the operation (no longer public employees) but there are still public dollars needed to pay for it, nonprofit operation has been considered, or combinations of these, etc.. The reality is that the group of concerned citizens believes that a new tax is the most viable option, and now you get to decide what you think.
There are a few important and contentious issues to vote on coming up. I hope that all will do their research, understand how the issues will affect them personally, consider the affects to our communities, and vote accordingly.