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Tualatin, Clackamas County bicker over library funding

Tualatin city councilors haven't decided yet whether to take a stand or to take the money

TUALATIN - The Tualatin City Council has a tough decision to make. Councilors can swallow their pride and possibly walk away with $137,000 a year for library services.

Or they can dig their heels in and watch to see if libraries in Clackamas County flourish or close under the success or failure of a proposed special library district.

Complicating the matter is a strained relationship between Tualatin and Clackamas County that has spanned two decades, with city officials continually asking for fair funding for library services. So when Clackamas County officials came asking for $10,000 for an informational campaign, councilors couldn't resist releasing some steam.

'I can't find a part of this (deal) where we (the city of Tualatin) don't get screwed,' Tualatin City Council President Ed Truax said to two Clackamas County representatives during a Feb. 25 council meeting.

The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is pursuing the formation of a library district. If voters approve the district in November, a permanent tax rate of 39.74 cents per $1,000 assessed value for Clackamas County property owners would be established. All the cities in the county would receive 100 percent of their assessed values back for library services, including Tualatin.

The proposed district is a last-ditch effort by Clackamas County to find a funding source for library services. The county is facing a $12.5 million loss from the reduction or elimination of federal secure rural schools funding, aka timber payments.

Last month, county officials made the rounds at city meetings asking for $10,000 from each city to fund an informational campaign and officially take part in the tax district if it passes.

So far Tualatin is the only city that hasn't given an answer. Dan Zinzer, Clackamas County's director of business and community services, admits Tualatin is in 'a different boat' than the rest of Clackamas County libraries. If the district doesn't pass, Tualatin is out nothing. If it does pass, the city could find itself having to yet again fight for more funding.

The unincorporated areas located just outside the Tualatin city limits in the Stafford Triangle area are identified in a library service map as being in the Lake Oswego library district. Tualatin was not included in conversations that ultimately determined the maps, because the city is not part of the Library Network Intergovernmental Board in Clackamas County. The city isn't involved because technically Tualatin's only library lies in Washington County.

The real problem for Tualatin is geography.

The majority of the city is located within Washington County. And from Washington County, Tualatin receives funding from the Washington County Cooperative Library Services. Next fiscal year, the city is set to get $1.15 million from WCCLS to help provide library services in the city.

A small portion of the city is located in Clackamas County. In 2003, more than 2,700 Tualatin residents lived in the Clackamas County portion of the city. But for the current and next fiscal years, the city got and expects to get nothing from Clackamas County for library services.

In 1997, Measure 50 rolled the county serial levy supporting library services as permanent rates into the county's general fund. From 1997 to the 2001-2002 fiscal year, Tualatin saw a steady if not small amount trickle in from Clackamas County for library services.

But in the 2002-2003 fiscal year, that amount was cut in half. The last funding Tualatin received from Clackamas County was $51,000 in fiscal year 2006-2007.

It's not to say that Tualatin residents in Clackamas County don't contribute anything to city library services. The city also has its own voter-approved library measure that is funding the construction of the new 22,162-square-foot library set to open in late summer.

But the Feb. 25 Tualatin City Council meeting showed just how frustrated councilors are with the library funding situation.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden commented that the council has a decision to make. 'Would it be better not to cut off our nose, or better to just not look in the mirror?'

This week Ogden acknowledged that he wasn't happy with the situation.

'But there's a time to rant and rave, and there's a time spend your energy on other issues.'