Oregon Libraries Regroup without Timber Subsidies

Oregon Libraries Regroup without Timber Subsidies

On August 9, the town of Tualatin, Oregon, celebrated the dedication of its new $9.1-million city library. Four years in the making, Tualatin Public Library was built thanks to a combination of capital-improvement bonds approved in 2004 and revenue earmarked for increased library expenses from property development in the city, which is situated in Washington County. “We wanted to have people walk in and say ‘Wow,’ and that’s what we’re hearing,” Library Manager Darrel Condra said in the July 17 Portland Tigard Times, a week after the facility’s soft opening to the public.

Tualatin’s success story stands in stark contrast to the fiscal struggles of public libraries in four other Oregon counties, which continue to seek solid financial footing after having their fear realized: the loss of as much as $6 million of some $238 million in federal funds that the state won’t be receiving after all. The shortfall for libraries in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties resulted from Congress rejecting in June a multiyear renewal of timber payments that had been a fiscal lifeline ever since logging regulations implemented in the 1990s all but eliminated logging revenues on federal lands that were shared with the counties.

Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke told American Libraries that “the large majority of Oregon’s 132 public libraries” are not impacted by the subsidy loss, and many have established library districts with their own taxing authority over the past 20 years. Officials in these communities “looked into the future and saw that libraries could not rely on federal county payments for the long term,” he asserted. The four counties that are particularly hard-hit have traditionally relied on county general-fund appropriations, not a dedicated property tax, and happen to be comprised of “large amounts of federal forest lands.”

Among those seeking stable funding sources elsewhere are Clackamas County’s 13 libraries. In the wake of losing $12.5 million in federal timber support, the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners has decided to phase out the $8.2 million it provides in library financing by 2014, and is advocating for the November 4 passage of a library-district initiative that would dedicate to library service 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Should the measure fail, the Clackamas Corner Library in Happy Valley, Hoodland Library in Welches, and the Oak Lodge Library in Oak Grove—the only three libraries funded and operated solely by the county—would close. “Folks need to know that this is the tipping point for library services in this county,” county Commissioner Martha Schrader said in the August 7 Clackamas Review.

Meantime, the four-branch Josephine County Library System continues its struggle to reopen after voters rejected a library district measure in 2006 that eventually forced its closure. The private Josephine Community Library fundraising group has been offered a $1-per-year lease from the county to run all four shuttered facilities once JCL has secured the funds. A sustained effort that began last fall has brought in $177,000 as of July 29 from 1,000 library members and area sponsors, in a model fashioned after public television’s public/private partnership. “The beauty of our model, I think, is that those who don’t support us don’t have to become members or give us a dime,” JCL board member Jennifer Roberts said in the July 28 Portland Oregonian. “Of course, we’ll still be there when they want to use the library for free.”

JCL organizers had hoped to raise enough to sustain a $1 million annual budget for the operation of all four facilities with a credentialed library director at the helm, although five years ago the system’s budget was $1.7 million, according to Scheppke. But the slow fundraising pace has necessitated scaling back the group’s 2008 goals to reopening by year-end only the Grants Pass library and recruiting a library administrator—the first step toward securing a $100,000 grant from Josephine County. “The other branches will open as we get the money and the skilled volunteers to do it,” JCL board President Doug Walker told the Oregonian.

The piecemeal approach is characterized by Josephine County Commissioner Dave Toler as “the only way” to reinstate library service there in the next few years. “There is nothing on the horizon as far as a levy or a district or anything like that.”

Also searching the horizon for a solution is Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who formed the Governor’s Task Force on Federal Forest Payments and County Services last fall. The initial report, issued in June, recommends that Oregon continue to lobby for a four-year reauthorization of the federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act with a built-in phase-out of support, so local governing bodies have time to establish alternate revenue sources.

Posted on August 13, 2008. Discuss.