It will be another two weeks before the city of Roseburg decides whether or not to join the proposed taxing district that could help keep the lights on at the county’s libraries.
The Save Our Libraries PAC, a coalition of citizens hoping to save those libraries from imminent closure, once again met with the Roseburg City Council to pitch the special district as a long-term funding fix Monday night. During an hour-long presentation, councilors heard from both the group of supporters and city officials who laid out the financial tug-of-war at play.
City officials say Roseburg could lose somewhere between $350,000 to $650,000 if a new property tax is enacted. However, library supporters have watched funds from the county shrink every year and hope to prevent a county-wide shuttering of libraries by 2019, they said.
“We’ve been barely keeping the library open with $1.6 million (in budget),” said Jeff Pugh, a representative with the organization. “We are behind everywhere. We do not have the technology. We do not have a book budget.”
The district, if established, would cull 44 cents per $1,000 of property values from owners. Because the state constitution caps property tax revenues at $10, any sum of taxes greater than that would be compressed to fit under the cap. Money lost in having to share that $10 cap with another taxing district is giving cities pause. Some services would lose money, the city said.
The proposal would also establish a five-person board to oversee the system.
Colley and the city councilors alike agreed on the importance of libraries, but wondered if there was another option that did not take as much money away from city coffers.
“That’s the difficulty, because I don’t think anyone is going to argue we don’t need a library,” Colley told city councilors Monday night. “My concern is is there an intermediate step that would allow citizens of Roseburg to support the library without taking away more than half a million in services?”
Colley suggested another route: a local option levy, which he said would get the library some funds without causing more compression for cities.
Historically, the city has given $50,000 to the Douglas County Library System every year. However, the county’s general fund has shrunk from $43 million to $29 million since 2008 and the library’s share, likewise, has been sawed from $2.6 million to $1.2 million.
So far, supporters have said cities like Riddle, Canyonville, Winston and Reedsport have opted into the district. If enough cities opt in, the district would be presented to voters in November. Roseburg, with one-fifth of the county’s assessed value, would be the biggest catch and Councilor Victoria Hawks said she hoped to see the proposal put on the ballot.
“It concerns me to not support it,” Hawks said. “... I can’t say no to the library because if we say no, as the city of Roseburg, it pretty much shuts it down for other cities.”
City councilor Tom Ryan said the city is too strapped for cash to support joining the district and motioned to turn it down Monday night, but it went unheeded.
“We can chase our tail all night but what it comes down to is are we going to give up that much revenue for the city and not have any choice of where it goes? Personally, I think that’s unconscionable,” Ryan said.
Part of the struggle for both sides is that it’s unclear how much financial loss the cities are facing. They said the county assessor’s office has been unable to get them clear figures, which is why Roseburg officials could only ballpark how much revenue they could lose.
“Rarely you’re going to get a $300,000 range from us,” Colley said.
Councilor Steve Kaser motioned to table a decision to the March 28 city council meeting, suggesting more time and perhaps more information might help them decide. The motion was approved with a 6 to 1 vote.