Roseburg city councilor Lew Marks received some applause Monday night simply for saying residents should be able to decide for themselves whether they wanted to support the library district.
“We’re not closing anything or shutting anything down, we’re just saying whether the citizens can vote or not,” he said. “... If we weren’t sitting here, we’d be citizens and we’d vote on it there. I don’t see a problem with letting the citizens vote.”
It was a slow clap at first, but nonetheless it was a surprising show of support on an otherwise quiet night. But it should not be so jarring to hear a councilor speak that way in the first place. As we see it, the people should always be given a chance to vote if the opportunity is there.
The special district on the table proposes taxing 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — at most — to fund the Douglas County Library System. Since last month, the Save Our Libraries PAC has asked cities to put their jurisdictions into the district and help fund. Some cities, however, face revenue shortfalls and perhaps some budget cuts if they have to share their property tax revenues with the library.
Make no mistake, the district is a complicated proposal. And the public has only had a couple months time to analyze, and councilors rightly seemed uncomfortable being pinched without much time to consider alternatives. Nine cities, however, have agreed to be in the district.
Roseburg is one such city. Officials said the city could lose up to $600,000 if the tax is proposed. Yet, by a 5-to-3 vote, city leaders did not try to wax too political on whether the city needs or doesn’t need its library. They maintained that their constituents should at least vote.
Sutherlin, on the other hand, would not lose any money in the district. Services are safe since taxes would not be compressed. But the decision by its councilors was that it did not want to be stuck with a district even if their residents voted against it.
Nothing will change if all voters turn the district away in November. But if the tax receives a no vote, the library system may shut down within a few years unless a new plan is reached.
If it proves successful, Sutherlin residents face paying $80 for a library card to use their branch as if they weren’t even part of the county. The district’s proposers have said branches in cities that opt out may see their branches close, and don’t forget Sutherlin owns the building in which its library branch is housed.
“The point of government is not to provide everything for everyone,” said Sutherlin councilor Karen Meier during their discussion. “It’s not my business to pay for somebody else to go to the library for free. It’s not my business to pay for a lot of things that I’m paying for. It’s got to be user fees.”
Who pays for anything then? The voteless, Sutherlin residents who only use the library because they cannot afford books or Internet? What, exactly, does a local government do if it doesn’t offer services that are bought with tax money?
The obvious answer is Douglas County, but the reason the discussion is happening at all is because its budget is practically on fire. Its responsibilities will be passed onto the cities; and Sutherlin voters are now removed from a countywide conversation that clearly needs to happen.