Featured Stories

Library hours cut, despite tax passage

Newest levy won't generate the same revenue
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Multnomah County libraries will be closed Mondays and have reduced hours of operation other days starting July 1, despite voter approval last week for a temporary property tax levy.

Starting July 1, Multnomah County libraries will be closed Mondays and will reduce their operating hours other days.

The service reductions may confuse or anger some voters - who overwhelming renewed the library system's operating levy on May 15 - but they shouldn't come as a surprise.

The reductions were much-discussed when county commissioners opted to play it safe and put a renewed levy before voters at the same tax rate as the five-year levy that expires June 30.

The new three-year levy, at the same rate of 89 cents for every $1,000 in assessed value, doesn't raise as much money as in past years, because Oregon tax-limitation initiatives do not allow the county to collect the full amount of the authorized levy. Nor does the levy keep pace with inflation, including the rising costs of employee salaries, benefits, gasoline, utilities and other expenses, as well as the added cost of new branches opened since the original levy was framed.

To soften the blow from the cutbacks, County Chair Jeff Cogen proposes to put $10 million in one-time money into next year's library budget, but that's not enough to prevent the reduced library hours.

Library booster organizations initially wanted county commissioners to put a library district on the May 15 ballot. It would have provided a higher level of property taxes and permanent funding for the popular library system. But commissioners feared voters might reject the district just as the temporary levy was expiring, forcing outright branch library closures. Instead, commissioners proposed a simple renewal of the existing library levy.

Now library patrons must get accustomed to reduced opening hours after reaffirming their support for the levy.

However, county commissioners and library booster groups began discussing on Monday the possibility of placing a library district measure before voters in November. Commissioners hope to make that decision by late June, says County Chair Jeff Cogen.

"The library boosters definitely want a library district, and so do county commissioners," Cogen says. "It's not whether we should (put it before voters), but how and when."

First , the supporters must talk about the structure of the district, the amount of the tax rate to put before voters, and do other research, including polling to test the idea with voters.

"We've got to learn about what the community is going to want to vote for," says Brian Wilson, chairman of the May levy campaign.

One new wrinkle is a huge Portland school bond measure that also might appear on the November ballot. Library supporters may worry that such a competing big-ticket item would cause property owners to turn down a tax increase for libraries.

Another longstanding issue is how city of Portland leaders will react to the library district proposal, since it would wind up reducing city property taxes by several million dollars a year, while boosting county property taxes.