It has been heartening to see support for public libraries in Wallowa County over the past few weeks as the announcement of budget cuts began to filter out.
Due to the loss of a federal funding program, the county commissioners are being forced to trim just about every department. The county library was targeted for closure.
That decision was temporarily shelved while the county pursues the mandatory public hearings. A session will be held 10 a.m. June 14 at the courthouse.
Clearly, the leadership in the county is not anti-library or anti-literacy. The choices are tough when a significant portion of revenue is carved out of a budget, particularly after it has been in place for decades. The crunch left them between scylla and charybdis.
Since much of what the county spends is mandated –– usually by the state –– libraries are an easy target. It’s difficult to make the case that a library is more important than the sheriff’s office, for instance.
The silver lining in this dark fiscal cloud is the obvious support for libraries and their role in the individual communities. Perhaps it’s time to ask county residents to put their money where their mouth is.
There are roughly 25 library districts in Oregon, funded primarily by dedicating a small portion of property taxes for that purpose.
It’s a fairly straight-forward process spelled out in Chapter 357 of Oregon statutes. Districts are run by a governing board elected by taxpayers, much like a cemetery district or any other similar entity.
We recently reported on the efforts by the Associated Ditch Company in Wallowa County to become a water district. That move would open avenues of funding to make needed improvements to the Wallowa Lake Dam.
A library district would likely bring similar added revenue and provide centralized direction for library operations.
A library district is one idea. There are no doubt others utilized by the 225 libraries in the state to survive and thrive.
Eastern Oregon University might serve as a partner to unify library services and funding in the county. A number of public libraries across the region have partnered with colleges and universities in this fashion.
Perhaps there are library synergies that can be leveraged by partnering with surrounding counties, many of which are likely facing the same prospects as Wallowa.
Don’t like any of those ideas? Come up with another one and present it June 13.
Most importantly is the need to strike while the iron is hot. Judging from the comments floating around the county, this is a fiery issue that is going to require the best minds to find the most reasonable workable solutions.
Yay? Nay? It doesn’t matter. We’d like to hear what you have to say on this topic. You may email letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org, send them to the Chieftain at P.O. Box 338, Enterprise OR 97828 or drop them by the office.