Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice floated an idea to have a nonprofit organization such as the Douglas County Library Foundation take over management of the county libraries.
Boice put the idea forward at a town hall meeting Wednesday.
About 200 people crammed into the Ford Room of the Douglas County Library to participate in the Town Hall meeting on the library system’s future, despite it being held on the evening before Thanksgiving.
The effort to find a Plan B for how to operate the county’s 11 libraries is a result of voters’ rejection of Plan A earlier this month. Plan A involved the formation of a library district with a tax of up to 44 cents per $1,000 property tax.
Most people who attended Wednesday were in support of finding a way to keep the libraries open. The county, Boice said, simply can’t afford to continue paying to run the libraries. But he sounded a hopeful note anyway.
“We’re not here to talk about how we’re going to close the library. We’re here to talk about how to keep it open,” Boice said.
Boice’s plan includes a fundraising effort to convince those who voted for the district tax to donate the amount they would have paid under the tax if it had passed.
“What I learned on Nov. 9 was that 45 percent of the people that voted raised their hand and said I will pay. I’m willing to pay to support this service. Also I know with some level of certainty that some of the people who voted no are also willing to pay,” he said.
Likely, the libraries would have to be run mainly by volunteers, making the proposal similar to the way libraries operate in Josephine County, said Joe Ross of Roseburg.
Josephine County has operated with limited hours and just four branches while being run by a nonprofit. Library supporters there are trying to put a library district on the ballot, Ross said. That library system operates with 200 volunteers and an $800,000 budget — about one third of what the cost would be to maintain the current level of services in Douglas County.
One attendee suggested it might be worth returning to voters with a less expensive proposal and a lower tax. The tax was based on the $3.8 million cost to return the library to the full staffing and hours it offered several years ago. At their current level of funding, the $2.1 million budget is considerably less expensive.
Diane De Micco suggested that because the district tax of 44 cents per $1,000 on the November ballot was designed to restore the libraries to their 2008 level of funding, it might be more effective to ask for half that in a new ballot measure.
“We might be able to do it for 22 cents on $1,000, I don’t know. I’m just throwing a number out there,” De Micco said.
Boice said he knew this November’s library district proposal would be a “heavy lift,” since school district levies are “going down in flames” and so are law enforcement levies in neighboring counties.
“There’s been a history of tax proposals that have gone down severely, and honestly, the folks who did their homework on this proposal did a fantastic job of putting it together and advertising it, as good a job as I think they could have done and the people still said no,” Boice said, to applause.
After a question about what Plan B was being put forward by district opponents, Douglas County Republican Committee Chairman Fred Dayton said the Republicans contributed $1,000 to a PAC set up to defeat the library taxing district. He said the Republicans had a similar Plan B to the one Boice was proposing.
“It’s not an objection to the library. It’s an objection to the taxing district,” Dayton said.
It’s unclear yet just what roles individual city governments might play in running their own libraries. Myrtle Creek Mayor Ken Brouillard asked if the county would allow cities to keep the books and computers in their libraries and provide I-T services to keep those computers functional.
“My answer to all of those questions is yes,” Boice said, though he noted all three county commissioners would have a vote.
All the smaller cities own their own library buildings, while Douglas County owns the Roseburg branch building. A woman’s question about whether the Roseburg branch on Diamond Lake Boulevard might be rented out to raise funds was not well received. “No,” “no” moaned many attendees. Jenny Carloni of Roseburg responded that the building of that library facility was a community effort, and that it was also important as a free meeting space since the city has no community center like some of the smaller towns do.
Boice said he expects the county will continue to own and maintain that building.
“There is a very large beautiful tree in front of my office out in front of the courthouse that I do not want to be hung from,” Boice joked to applause.
A second town hall meeting on the library’s future will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ford Room, Douglas County Library, 1409 N.E. Diamond Lake Blvd., Roseburg.