Mail Tribune Endorses Library Measure

County library district: Yes


Measure would protect the community’s investment in its public library system

If being asked to pass a tax levy to operate the county libraries sounds familiar, you’ve probably lived in Jackson County for some time. Back in the 1990s, county voters renewed a library operating levy on a regular basis.

That all changed with the passage of property tax limitation measures in 1996 and 1997. Buried in the details of those measures was language that made all special-purpose levies permanent and rolled them into the county’s overall tax base. The library system no longer needed to ask voters to renew its levy, but the libraries had to compete with all other general-fund departments of the county each year.

The last library operating levy was approved in 1996. The money from that levy — $5.3 million a year at the time — is still contributing to the county’s general fund, and has grown over the years along with county property values. But the loss of federal timber-sale receipts meant the county had to cut costs across the board, including library services. The libraries were closed in 2007 after an operating levy failed, then reopened with sharply reduced hours and outsourced management.

Voters in 2000 approved a $38.9 million bond measure to remodel or replace every library building in the county. Those buildings today could face closure or further cutbacks in hours if the proposed operating levy does not pass next month. We recommend voters approve it.

Ballot Measure 15-122 would create a library district encompassing the entire county, and increase property taxes up to 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to operate the library system in perpetuity. The library system no longer would be subject to the county budget process, and would be governed by an elected board.

We won’t belabor the traditional arguments in favor of libraries, though they are as valid as ever: Libraries are important repositories of culture and knowledge; they are one of the hallmarks of a civilized community; they provide gathering places, offering space for meetings and classes of all kinds; and they contribute to the education of our children, from pre-school story times to teen summer reading programs.

Opponents who argue that 15 branches is too many ignore several important facts:

  • Those branches were there in the first place, and it would have been difficult to pass a bond measure to build new ones in some towns but not others.
  • By law, construction bonds can be used only for construction, not for operating expenses, and those buildings must be used as libraries until the bonds are paid off in 2020. The county would have to shutter the buildings and pay to maintain them if they weren’t being used.
  • Voters agreed to build the libraries, recognizing their value. Now that investment needs to be protected by a dedicated funding source.

We recommend a yes vote on Measure 15-122.

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