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Library’s return would be slow

Even if Nov. 2 levy passes, don’t look for much for a full year

The library pie might not be ready until around Thanksgiving 2011.

Even if the proposed Hood River County Library District levy passes on the Nov. 2, don’t expect more than a mere slice of library services until the next November.

That was Arthur Babitz’s message Thursday when he spoke about the proposed levy to a group of about 100 Hood River Rotarians at their weekly meeting.

“It will take awhile to build this up,” Babitz said, pointing to the pie chart of multiple funding sources it will take to fund the library, in addition to the property tax levy.

The levy would generate about $630,000 each year, at the proposed rate of 39 cents per $1,000 assessed value. (A May 2010 proposal, at 70 cents, was defeated by voters, and the library closed July 1 and has remained closed.)

“Clearly the voters have spoken and it will be interesting to see what will happen at 39 cents,” said Paul Blackburn, who also spoke with Babitz.

Volunteer time, fees to out-of-county users and other funding sources must accompany property taxes in order to bring the now-closed library somewhere close to a full schedule of services, according to Babitz. While the precise budget figure is still unknown, because the range of services has not been set, it will be “far more” than $630,000, particularly with the need to build up an endowment fund so that the library can do such things as hire staff, restore more than barebones services, get back to funding collections, and stop living on a year-to-year basis.

“If it opens before November 2011 it will be based on volunteers and whatever small amount of library we can create,” Blackburn said.Babitz is Hood River’s mayor but spoke as a private citizen. Blackburn is one of 12 people running for one of five positions on the library board.

“This is a change of direction,” Babitz said of the multi-part pie approach.

The recipe of revenue sources has “never been done like this” in Oregon, he said, noting that Hood River would have the lowest library tax rate of any county in the state. The next lowest is 45 cents, and after that comes Wasco County, at 62 cents.

Babitz said the task force appointed by the county board of commissioners to look into the feasibility and scope of a revised levy looked at the services and operations of Oregon counties of comparable population and service area, and examined the budgets and volunteer support of the Hood River Library for the past five years.

“We found that we needed a core of funding, and we did not find an alternative to property taxes to provide that core,” Babitz said.

“Also there was a history of volunteering, and we looked at whether we can rely on volunteers to fill in and enhance the number of hours (the library) would need to operative effectively.”

While Babitz primarily presented numbers, Blackburn spoke to what he sees as the broader need for the library.

He cited 1 Kings in the Old Testament, which refers to “the still, small voice” inside each person “that calls on us to become what we want to become.”

“The library is a place to listen to that still, small voice; a place to find quiet, and to read what others have read and thought, in addition to services such as reference and Internet access for people who cannot afford it at home.

“The library is the living room of the community, and it is ironic to have none open,” he said.Blackburn commented that “there are many library supporters in this room and I am sure there are those who are opposed to paying more taxes and I’m sure there could be some shrill political discussion but instead I’m going to read a book.”

He then did a quick reading of a picture book called “It’s A Book,” in which one character demonstrates the function of a book compared to a computer, and how the place to find books to hold in one’s hand and read, is the library.As to the cost of the library, Blackburn noted that with the cost dropped from 70 to 39 cents per $1,000, “essentially we are quibbling about price.”

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