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Voters need to step up for libraries

Thank you for highlighting the challenge facing libraries in the Feb. 14 editorial in the Lake Oswego Review 'Library taxing district plan needs a fallback plan B'.

As the chair of the Board of Clackamas County Commissioners and a former city councilor, I know firsthand how the board has tackled the issue of stabilizing library funding with its partners over the past 11 years.

The county has been diligently preparing for the loss of $12.5 million in timber receipts from the federal rural schools program and rural road program. The library system was partially funded out of the rural schools program. The board made the tough decision to no longer provide direct funding for libraries within the next 5 years. We have committed to funding the Library Network system at $1.5 million that allows for inter-library loans.

The library system was set up to be a joint funding partnership with cities. Many of our cities have not had stable general funds over the last 10 years (due to the passage of Measure 50) and they cut or eliminated their portion of library funding. County resources kept library services open for these cities.

Other cities found resources to dedicate to their libraries. This has produced huge inequities across the county. Even worse, most of our libraries are not meeting the lowest professional level of service as suggested by the Oregon Library Standards.

The librarians, city managers, elected officials and engaged citizens prepared for this day. We all discussed options. We all studied possible outcomes. We all realized that libraries are important … so important that we need a dedicated funding source outside of every city and the county's general fund.

A library district will provide that dedicated funding stream to our libraries. When it passes in November of 2008, libraries will no longer compete in the general fund with other core responsibilities of cities and counties.

Before the board forwards the district proposal to the voters for the November 2008 election, we are meeting with each of our city partners in public meetings to discuss this issue. The city councils, one by one, have agreed that the district plan is the preferred choice to continue service provision to all residents.

The library district is the fallback plan to ensure equal access to all. Without the district, unincorporated area residents will be without affordable library services. And cities will need to each pass their own measures for libraries.

Other counties in this state have simply closed libraries.

It is up to each voter to end the rollercoaster ride of libraries by voting 'yes' in November.

If you have questions regarding the district, please feel free to call me or the other commissioners at 503-655-8581.

Lynn Peterson, Lake Oswego, is chair of the Board of Clackamas County Commissioners. She is a former Lake Oswego City Councilor.