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Multnomah County library levy passes easily

Measure passing by more than a 4 to 1 margin

In an unexpectedly lopsided vote, Multnomah County voters Tuesday easily approved the renewal of a county library levy for another three years.

Voters were supporting the tax levy by more than a 4 to 1 margin after the first batch of 78,000 votes was counted shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m. That was more than half the expected total vote in the county.

'We didn't expect this kind of a margin,' said Brian Wilson, campaign chairman. 'We thought it would be a sizable win, but we didn't think it would be this big.'

Billed as Measure 26-125 on the May 15 ballot, the levy will enable the county to continue collecting property taxes to the tune of 89 cents for every $1,000 in assessed value, or $178 for a home assessed at $200,000.

The levy, which replaces a five-year tax measure of the same amount that expires June 30, pays for roughly two-thirds of the cost of operating the Multnomah County library system, including the Central Library in downtown Portland and 18 branches. The rest of the funds come from the county general fund and other sources.

The levy is estimated to raise $32.6 million in 2012-13, $34.5 million in 2013-14 and $36.5 million in 2014-15.

This may be the first of two library funding measures before Multnomah County voters this year. Though a final decision hasn't been made yet, Multnomah County commissioners are considering putting a permanent property tax measure for libraries on the November ballot. If approved by voters, that could wind up raising the property tax rate up to around $1.18 per $1,000 in assessed value, by creating a library district with the power to collect property taxes.

Wilson did not want to discuss the library district idea Tuesday night, but said library supporters have long thought that temporary levies are not the best way to fund the system. 'We'll continue to try to look for better funding mechanisms as we go into the future,' he said.

Library supporters have long dreamed of a district to achieve stable funding, so the library system isn't dependent on going back to voters every three to five years to renew temporary tax levies.

Multnomah County commissioners had expected to put the library district before voters this election, but decided against it back in December, for fear the sour economy might cause voters to reject the measure. As a safer alternative, commissioners agreed to put a routine extension of the library levy on the May 15 ballot, to assure libraries won't be crippled when the existing levy expires at the end of June.

That gives library supporters some breathing room and time to plot the library district campaign.