The taxes and fees we pay for operating federal, state and local governments have steadily increased during the past decade. Until 2009 funding for libraries in Clackamas County was reduced as federal timber payments declined. Those “payments” are actually a form of federal welfare distributed to counties hit hard by a dramatic reduction in logging.

In spite of an ongoing economic collapse, in November of 2008 Clackamas County’s generous voters approved forming a Library District. The clear intent of the measure was to prevent further reductions in operating hours.

Included in the fine print was language that called for closing libraries that were not located within cities. The largest library slated for closure serves about 28,000 citizens in Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge. Closing the Oak Lodge Library would allow the city of Gladstone to receive over $700,000 contributed annually to the district by Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge residents.

The current Gladstone library serves about 17,000 people, and is located in the city’s aging downtown. The building is not adequate to serve the combined population of all three communities in the future. Providing a solution that’s good for everyone has been a controversial and time consuming issue.

In early 2011 promoters in Gladstone proposed building a large library on city owned property near the intersection of Oatfield and Webster roads. The site was a poor location for many reasons including the high cost for construction on property that is mostly bedrock. In spite of citizen concerns, Mayor Byers and the City Council approved a project that would cost at least $10 million, most of it financed. Many described it as a “Taj Mahal.”

Searching for a more practical solution, and aware of higher priorities, including sewers overflowing into the Clackamas River, group of citizens formed “Save a Gladstone.” The group’s first action was gathering several hundred signatures to require a vote on public projects costing over $1 million. City Council defiantly responded by approving an “emergency” ordinance that limited the time allowed for gathering signatures.

Save Gladstone’s effort was successful, and in May of 2012 voters approved two spending measures. The city responded by placing the library plan on the November 2012 ballot where it was defeated. Since that time an improved process has occurred; one that should have happened in 2011. A large citizen’s advisory committee recently endorsed placing a measure on the upcoming November ballot for a $6.5 million library located downtown on Portland Avenue.

The plan is a dramatic improvement, but issues remain. Gladstone now intends to pay for much of the cost by using money generated by the Clackamas County Library District. Some are concerned that the plan will rely too heavily using money that is intended to operate, not construct a facility. Many Oak Lodge citizens are understandably troubled at the possibility of losing their library after voting to approve the district in 2008.

As a 20 year Oak Grove resident who moved to Gladstone two years ago, I have mixed feelings about the issue. The final outcome will be determined when Gladstone residents vote on the plan in November. (Oak Lodge is not a city, and the residents will not be voting on the matter.)

There is a consensus in Gladstone that the current aging library should be replaced, and the upcoming election will dramatically affect the outcome for thousands of local citizens. Take the time to be informed. Spend a few minutes researching the issue on line, and watch for updates. The clock is ticking faster as the November election approaches.

Les Poole is a resident of Gladstone.

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