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Levy would expand library services

Voter approval on Nov. 3 of a slightly higher tax levy would enable some Washington County libraries to add hours and others to expand capacity, as well as allowing the fledgling library in Aloha to join the 15 current members of the Washington County Cooperative Library Services.

Eva Calcagno, the director of WCCLS explained how the public would be affected by what happens to Measure 34-235, a five-year levy that would take effect in July 2016.

Calcagno, who has worked in the county office for 25 years, also talked about what would happen if voters reject the levy — which makes up about 33 percent of the county budget for the libraries.

“I do not want to scare people or sound threatening, but there would be a reduction in services,” she said Monday at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum. “One-third is a pretty big hole to fill.”

Although specific cuts would be left to cities and nonprofit community organizations to determine, there would be less money for books and other materials, some libraries would be open for fewer days and/or hours, and other libraries would have to shelve expansion plans, she said.

The remaining two-thirds of the libraries’ budgets come from the Washington County general fund, and another 1 percent from state grants and other sources. Cities do pay a share, which varies by city, and provide buildings.

Friends of libraries groups also raise donations to provide additional support and special programs.

The proposed levy is 22 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, up 5 cents from the rate that has been in effect for a decade, including the current five-year period.

For owners of the average Washington County home whose assessed value is at $255,408 — that is not the same as market value, which is likely higher — the new rate would result in a total tax burden of about $56, $14 more than what is in effect this year.

Voters on Nov. 3 also will decide the fate of Measure 34-236, which would continue a property tax levy for public safety services at 42 cents per $1,000 for five years. That proposal was discussed at a Sept. 28 forum.

Unlike Sheriff Pat Garrett and District Attorney Bob Hermann — who, as elected officials, are allowed to take positions on ballot measures — Calcagno, as a public employee, is limited to only providing information about Measure 34-235.

A separate political action committee, People for Libraries, is promoting voter approval of the library levy.

How it operates

Washington County has 15 member libraries. They are Banks, Beaverton (2), Cedar Mill Community, Cedar Mill Community at Bethany, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Garden Home Community, Hillsboro (2), North Plains, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin and West Slope Community. All nine cities and two nonprofit associations are participants.

Washington County runs only West Slope, but also provides central support and outreach for all member libraries.

Examples of central support are the electronic catalog and Internet access shared by all libraries, and courier services that transfer books and other materials between libraries. The county also provides outreach to people with disabilities who are unable to visit libraries in person, and children who get encouragement to read, receive tutoring and do homework.

While the number of transactions of print materials are flat — and down for compact discs and digital video discs — Calcagno said e-books and interactions with the public are up.

Calcagno said the proposed levy would generate not only enough to maintain services, but would also allow for additional operating hours contemplated by Banks, Garden Home, North Plains and Tigard, among others.

It also would enable the fledgling Aloha Community Library, currently run by a nonprofit association, to join the other 15 member libraries.

In addition, the proposed levy would allow operating support for potential expanded capacity of libraries in Cedar Mill/Bethany, Cornelius and Hillsboro.

In response to a question at the forum, Calcagno said “there is no way we could backfill” the loss of library specialists in public schools, whose district boards were forced to cut most of those positions during the economic downturn that shrank state aid.

“The purpose of a school library is to support school curriculum,” she said.

But Calcagno said that while there has been an explosion of information available to anyone, there is still a role for library specialists in public schools.

“In a knowledge economy, it’s amazing that a person who is trained to teach people how to discern accurate information from all the stuff you can get on the Internet is the person who was eliminated” as a result of budget cuts, she said.