After a prolonged and conflicted city council meeting, it appears Roseburg residents will vote whether to join a proposed special taxing district that would fund the county’s flagging libraries.
Roseburg city councilors voted 5-to-3 Monday night to have staff write up a resolution to let voters decide come November. Councilors will officially decide on the resolution April 11. If they do so, Roseburg residents will decide whether they want to join the district and give 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed property values to the Douglas County Library System.
The Douglas County Commissioners are expected to formally announce during their Wednesday morning meeting that they will put the library item on the ballot.
However, Sutherlin’s city councilors voted 4-to-3 against putting to a vote of its citizens.
Roseburg’s council deliberated for an hour, going back and forth on how the district, proposed by the group Support Our Libraries PAC, could impact the city. In Roseburg, some property taxes are already over the state cap of $10 per $1,000. A new district would compress city revenues and create a loss somewhere between $350,000 and $660,000, according to the latest estimates.
A decision, however, had to be made. Cuts to the library system are coming fast enough that representatives said many of the county branches may not even exist by 2019. Whether they opposed the district or not, councilors all seemed to agree it was a difficult decision. Councilor Allison Eggers compared it to walking the plank.
“If we had more time to talk about it — I feel like we’re being pushed down a plank to make a decision, but I don’t know,” she said.
The district could generate millions and raise it up to funding levels it hasn’t seen in years. Councilors who opposed the idea questioned whether the city needed to pay more than it already does — $50,000 annually — and be locked into a district indefinitely.
“We’re putting the future of the city this much in the hole forever,” said councilor Tom Ryan, who has been a vocal opponent to the district. He contends the city is already short on things like its sidewalk funds and said the city should not lose any more. “We would have absolutely no control. I’m sure they would have a good library board, but we wouldn’t be able to say ‘Can we only pay 40 cents this year? How about 42 cents this year?’”
The proposal would establish a five-person board to oversee the district.
For some of the councilors, the cost of losing the library would be far greater. Councilors Eggers, Lew Marks, Steve Kaser, Victoria Hawks and John McDonald said they would rather let the citizens vote for themselves on whether or not to be included in the district.
Councilors Ryan, Andrea Zielinski and Ken Fazio voted against it.
Meanwhile, councilors in Sutherlin voted Monday night to opt out of the vote altogether. City manager Jerry Gillham said the council ultimately felt like the city could be taxed even if the residents voted against it.
“The council really believes that, as far as Sutherlin is concerned, going this route wasn’t giving the voters of Sutherlin a true vote,” Gillham said. “That seemed to be their emphasis. The citizens of Sutherlin could vote they didn’t want this, but the rest of the citizens in the area could outvote them and make them take the library (district).”
Cities that opted out could lose their respective library or the residents could be required to pay an annual fee for access to the library, much like residents outside of Douglas County would have to do currently. Yoncalla has already opted out.
Gillham said the councilors hope they may be able to join the district at a later time if need be. Sutherlin is not at risk of losing money in compression like Roseburg and would not have to make cuts if it fell into the taxing district.
Gary Waugaman, of the Save Our Libraries PAC, called Sutherlin’s decision “disappointing” but said they are excited for the strides made this far in getting the district on the ballot.
“We are very, very encouraged that all three of the commissioners have indicated they are ready to go, they are ready to support it being put on the ballot,” Waugaman said. “That gets it on the ballot, then we’ve accomplished that and obviously we need to convince everyone else.”