The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to put a library taxing district before the voters in the November election.
The vote was taken after a hearing in Roseburg was attended by more than 30 people. Most said they favored a vote on the issue because libraries offer important benefits, especially for children and seniors. Opponents said some property owners on fixed incomes wouldn’t be able to afford the proposed tax of 44 cents per $1,000 in property value.
Some spoke Tuesday about what libraries had meant to them.
Retired Douglas County Circuit Judge Joan Seitz said she grew up in a family that did not value reading, and the library’s bookmobile in her hometown of Klamath Falls introduced her to what became a lifelong love of reading.
“It gave me opportunities to learn that I wouldn’t have had if my father had to pay for a library card. He wouldn’t have been interested in that. That wasn’t a priority to him,” she said.
Susan Board of Roseburg said as a girl, she would take the bus across town to the library and bring home a stack of books and “just devour them.”
Board said it’s important that Douglas County residents have a chance to vote on the library’s future.
“So I ask you, please, put it on the ballot in November. I don’t see a down side to that,” she said.
Ruthanne Skinner was one of several commenters who joined the discussion by video conference from Reedsport. She said early childhood education is essential, and library programs like weekly story times at the Reedsport branch introduce young children “to the library and the wonders that it holds.”
“Reading is the key to lifelong learning, and the library is the place to find that key,” she said.
Harvey Meyers of Reedsport said providing dial-a-ride transportation services for seniors has allowed him to see first hand the importance of the library to seniors.
“I believe it’s a very important thing not only for the kids but for the seniors and others who are unable to have very much disposable income to use other methods of entertainment or enjoyment,” Meyers said.
John Peterson of Roseburg said a library is the glue that holds the community together.
“We’re not simply talking about an up-ordown vote for the library,” Peterson said. “In a very real, concrete way, we are talking about the survival of the soul of our community.”
Opponents said it was the library taxing district, not the library they opposed.
James Finell of Myrtle Creek urged the commissioners to look at other options.
“I’m not against the library. I’m just against the way we possibly are going to finance it, and we have to look at the long term and what people can afford and what they can’t afford,” he said.
Bill Scheufele of Glide said many homeowners can’t afford to be taxed any more.
“It’s unfair because if it does get on the ballot, whether you’re a landowner or not, you get to vote on it,” he said.
Dennis Wharton took that argument one step farther, arguing that democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting what to have for dinner. In his analogy, the property owners who can’t afford a new tax are the sheep.
“Where does this council, or for that matter, the population of this county as a whole get the authority to reach into my back pocket and make me pay for something which I don’t use?” Wharton said.
Commissioner Susan Morgan said she hadn’t heard anyone talk about not wanting libraries. The discussion was about how to pay for them.
That is an issue that really does need to go out for a vote of the people, Morgan said.
Commissioner Chris Boice noted the library district idea was brought forward by a group of concerned citizens, not by the commissioners.
“For me the question is really pretty simple. It boils down to do we or do we not want to allow the people of Douglas County to voice their opinion on this issue, and the answer for me is yes,” Boice said.
Commissioner Tim Freeman said he believes supporters have a “difficult lift” to get voter approval of a library district. He thinks it will be hard to convince people to pay for it.
However, he said the real question before the commission Tuesday was whether to let the county vote.
“When that’s the question for me, it’s not an easy question, but I come down on the side of letting the people have their say,” Freeman said.