One of the major casualties of the loss of timber revenue for Oregon’s rural counties could be local libraries. The Douglas County Board of Commissioners says it doesn’t have enough money to pay for the county library system. That’s because the federal timber payment safety net is drying up.
But a group of determined residents is trying to keep them open. Measure 10-145 on the November ballot would set up a special funding district for branch libraries in 10 Douglas County towns.
At a kick-off event for the library measure, people have pasted a giant “closed” sign across the doors of the county library in Roseburg. Supporters of measure 10-145 are trying to get out the message that the library system is in peril.
Huffstutter “Well, this is one of the things that’s on the chopping block.”
Sandra Hufftutter is with Save Our Libraries.
Huffstutter: “So, we either create a library district. It’s a tried and true solution. There are 25 library districts in the state of Oregon right now, supporting local libraries. We would be number 26.”
The proposal is to establish a 44 cent tax per $1000 dollar assessed property value for Douglas County residents. This would raise roughly 4 million dollars a year, backers say, to pay for the county’s branch libraries. Other Oregon counties, including Multnomah have library funding districts. If the measure doesn’t pass, Roseburg resident Sallie Brown says the loss of the libraries would be devastating.
Brown: “It would be a wide effect across the board, for employment, for property values, for education, for community services, for a meeting place, for the community in general it would be a terrible loss.”
The county libraries have already experienced cuts. Most are open limited hours. The Roseburg branch opens at noon on this Tuesday. The high-ceilinged rooms fill quickly with book browsers, computer users and kids. In the children’s section, Eric Sebastian and his 4-year-old son Bob are playing a computer game. They go to story time at their local branch library in Canyonville every week.
Sebastian: “We’re checking out the library because Bob’s really excited. It’s way bigger than ours. It has more toys. There’s like 5 computers so that’s really exciting for him. I just like the environment of the library. It’s quiet and there’s so much you can learn.”
Marlene Pickins is here with her grandchildren and daughter-in-law.
Pickens: “Well, my daughter-in-law homeschools. So the kids come pretty often to the library and check out books and, Logan is reading really well.”
“How old is Logan?”
Pickens: “Logan is 7. He’s a nice 7.” [laughs]
Douglas County’s budget woes have to do with the huge amount of federal land that’s not on the property tax rolls. When Oregon’s so called O & C lands were established, rural counties benefited from a steady infusion of cash from logging revenues. With changes in the market and timber laws, the logging industry has waned. For years, the federal government made up for the shortfall with the Secure Rural Schools subsidy, but that has also dried up.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice is not willing to endorse the library funding district.
Boice: “I’m generally considered to be a no-new taxes kind of a person. I’m very passionate about the library and understand its value to the community. But I also am fully aware of the reason we’re in the situation that we’re in and I think there’s a better solution to that.”
Boice says the real solution is to open federal lands for logging.
Boice: “There’s improved forest health that can be achieved by doing it if it’s done properly. There’s more trees on the landscape now consuming water for watersheds than there needs to be and I think that there’s a solution that works and I don’t think taxing ourselves to death in order to try to provide what we’ve always had is the right solution.”
Boice says library supporters are exaggerating when they say the libraries will close at the end of the year. He thinks cities and non-profit groups can individually step up to run libraries, perhaps with more volunteer labor. But the backers of measure 10-145 say that’s not likely to work. They’re trying to get the word out as Election Day approaches.
Clarification: Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice says he does not want to advocate for or against the district as he is very interested in the results of an unbiased well educated electorate.