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Voters should approve Washington County library and public safety levies

Public safety levy would remain at 42 cents per $1,000; library levy would go up by 5 cents to 22 cents per $1,000

Measure 34-235 - Washington County Library Levy - YES

If the Washington County Library Levy seems familiar, it’s with good reason. Thanks to Oregon’s quirky property tax laws, voters approved a similar levy five years ago – and four years before that. That’s because voter-approved property tax caps froze tax receipts at a level too low to provide many basic government services, requiring local governments to ask voters to approve “serial levies” (aka “local option levies”) to continue operations of certain functions.

It’s not an ideal way to fund government, but Washington County residents have a good record of supporting the services we need, and among them are our library services.

The levy will allow WCLS to continue operating the countywide library website, purchase e-books, audio books and research data bases, deliver books to homebound residents and provide support (including computers and internet access) to job-seekers.

Most of the county library money comes from the general fund, supported by property taxes. But a third of the funding (nearly $9 million) comes from this local option levy.

The current levy, which expires next June, has a rate of 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed levy would raise that rate to 22 cents, the first increase in 10 years. The extra money would be used in a variety of ways, including:

Maintaining (and, in some cases expanding) hours at the 15 WCCLS libraries;

Purchasing more e-books and audio books to meet a growing patron demand;

Adding on-line tutoring services for students;

Expanding storage capacity to let local libraries free up space for other uses;

Increasing literacy training for staff, parents and child-care providers.

The above list shows that as methods of sharing information change, our libraries must change with them. That’s why we think this replacement levy, and the extra cost to taxpayers, is warranted. Libraries have evolved from places to check out books to vital resources and community centers.

For the owner of an average home ($255,000), the levy would cost $56 a year – an increase of $14 from the current annual tax bill. To us, that seems like a good investment.

We urge voters to support Measure 34-235.

Measure 34-236 - Washington County Public Safety Levy - YES

Like the county library measure, the Washington County Public Safety Levy came before voters five years ago. Unlike the library proposal, however, this is a pure renewal – meaning the rate (42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value) would not change if voters approve it, as we hope they do. Its renewal would mean that the owner of an average priced home would pay $107 next year.

The county’s criminal justice programs pull funds from a variety of sources. Almost half the money comes from the county’s general fund. State and federal funding represents about 20 percent of the budget, and another 16 percent is from property owners in areas not served by city police – earmarked for enhanced sheriff’s patrols.

The local option levy provides the balance – about 16 percent of the total, coming to about $24 million a year.

The money is spread around in a variety of ways, including:

Maintaining the county jail at full capacity, so that when city police arrest dangerous suspects, there are beds available to keep them behind bars;

Keeping the number of sworn and civilian officers in the sheriff’s department at their current levels and, in some cases, allowing the addition of personnel;

Continuing multi-agency teams dealing with gangs and other regional issues;

Maintaining the staffing in the District Attorney’s office, so that suspects can be prosecuted, victims can receive assistance and the county child support team can do its job;

Maintaining and, perhaps, expanding a program to make mental health experts available to respond to police calls where they may be needed;

Continuing to provide emergency shelter services for victims of domestic violence.

Given that the county’s population has grown over the past five years, we are impressed that the county is proposing to maintain and enhance services without raising the tax rate on the local option levy. Measure 34-236 deserves voters’ support.