By Paul Wahl
Wallowa County Chieftain
Members of the Wallowa Valley Library Foundation were disappointed when election results came in May 15.
The group had supported an idea to create a library district, but voters rejected it.
What comes next?
That discussion will be on the agenda when the foundation holds an open meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at Enterprise Public Library.
“My intention is not to have a debate, but consider what we have learned and where do we go from here,” said Kirsten Rohla, chair of the foundation board.
Possible considerations include bringing the same plan that was defeated back to voters or a scaled-down version that would be less costly but provide less service.
Or something else.
One option for the foundation would be to serve as a conduit for the grant money that will be lost when the county library closes officially July 1. More than a dozen programs ranging from literacy for preschoolers to home delivery of books for senior citizens are in the balance.
Rohla said Monday she wasn’t sure the foundation would be able to take on that responsibility. It is a federally registered nonprofit.
“It probably couldn’t be done only with volunteers,” Rohla said.
Generally, Wallowa County officials are supportive of continuing the grants under the auspices of another entity. Talks have been ongoing to find homes for the grants with Building Healthy Families and others.
Wallowa County’s experience is similar to Josephine County, which floated the idea to create a library district in 2014. When it failed, a nonprofit was created to help fund and promote the libraries.
The measure was reshaped and appeared on the ballot again in 2017 and was approved. It was combined with a proposal to fund an adult jail and juvenile detention facility. The package won narrow approval at 93 cents per $1,000 of property value.
The original defeat of the issue there meant supporters had to get creative.
“The theory was that if everyone who voted ‘yes’ for the district donated what they would’ve paid in taxes, we’d be able to fund our library,” said Kate Lasky, who has been involved in the issue from the beginning. “We operated our library as a private nonprofit with a value for transparency, accountability and frugality to honor donor contributions in the same way a government agency would honor taxpayer contributions.
“Our libraries were never able to open enough hours or have enough funds to have a healthy book and materials budget, but we were open and that’s all that mattered.”
The nonprofit had a small paid staff that worked to coordinate the efforts of volunteers, Lasky noted.
The funding burden for a nonprofit in Wallowa County would likely be less considering the three largest cities already fund a core library service.
In addition to talking strategy Wednesday, the foundation will also cast for new board members. Rohla said anyone interested should come early to discuss the possibilities.
The foundation’s charter requires that all areas of the county be represented on the foundation board.
Current members in addition to Rohla include Autumn Wilburn, Mike Crawford, Maggie Holcomb, Kay Sawin, Bonnie Marks and Lorien James. One position remains vacant.
Most of the past year has been dedicated to getting the library district qualified for the May ballot.
A separate fundraising committee operates in consultation with the foundation board.
“With the defeat of the library district measure comes the opportunity to go back to the drawing board,” said Angela Bombaci, volunteer coordinator for the “Yes for Wallowa County Libraries” committee, which functioned independent of the foundation.
She issued an invitation to anyone who voted against the district to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’d love their input,” she said. “We must put aside our differences and collaborate to build the future of Wallowa County Libraries.”