The city of Gladstone this week asked for more time to pay back Clackamas County’s $1.5 million in library funds after voters rejected new library plans by a 44 percent to 55 percent margin.

November’s failed measure would have authorized the city to incur up to $7.5 million in debt to build a larger, regional library. Gladstone got a total of $2.5 million from the county, including a $500,000 “transition” payment and an extra $1 million capital contribution to replace the Oak Lodge library.

Clackamas County Administrator Steve Wheeler wrote in a letter to the city last month that the voter referendum “puts that plan in grave doubt.”

County officials “respect the decision of the city and its voters, and view the return of these funds as a reset based on the decisions,” Wheeler wrote.

Gladstone Administrator Pete Boyce said he is responding in a letter asking for more time for City Council to consider what to do with the library.

“There may be some other options, and we’re looking into them,” Boyce said.

Voters’ approval of two measures on May 15 put the hurdle in place for the Gladstone library project that City Council approved on Aug. 15, 2011. Gladstone building expenditures larger than $1 million, or those expenditures using urban-renewal financing, are now subject to voter approval.

City Council could send the same library proposal back to voters, or officials could ask voters to look at the plan again with minor revisions. After discussing Wheeler’s letter at the City Council meeting last week, Boyce believes it unlikely city officials will try again.

“That plan as proposed wasn’t what people wanted, so it’s highly unlikely that the same plan would go forward to voters,” Boyce said.

For-profit library

Gladstone also voted 4-3 last week to stop considering outsourcing its library operations and management to Library Systems and Services, a Maryland company. The majority of jurisdictions that turned to LSSI were under financial stress and saw an opportunity to provide more library service at a lower costs.

LSSI finds savings by reducing benefits for library employees, by automating systems and by purchasing library media in bulk for its approximately 80 communities nationwide. Detractors of LSSI cite employee issues, loss of local control, billing issues and a loss of character in the library’s collection.

Boyce said that the city would retain ownership of the library building and content while continuing to cover janitorial services and property insurance.

“Contracts usually allow for the city to continue its policy discretion over the library with its Library Board and City Council,” Boyce said.

The American Library Association opposes outsourcing libraries to for-profit companies, saying “publicly funded libraries should remain directly accountable to the public they serve.”

Other options

Local developer Dennis Marsh announced in November a proposal to rebuild Gladstone City Hall and its police station and part of a commercial development along Portland Avenue, the city’s main street.

“Right now, we’re focusing on the City Hall and police station parts of the proposal and figuring out what the ballpark figure would be to develop that,” Boyce said.

If City Council deems it possible to add the library into the equation, Boyce plans to help negotiate with Marsh on refining the proposal. City Attorney Heather Martin indicated that Marsh’s private development would probably still require voter approval under new requirements.

Wheeler’s letter put no deadline demand on the city’s payback and indicated that the Clackamas County Library District would be amenable to negotiation.

“The district looks forward to working with the city and the District Advisory Committee to find the best path forward in providing quality library service to both the city and the unincorporated residents in the affected service areas,” Wheeler wrote.

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