Friday, June 21, 2024

The value of libraries

Libraries are important to communities. They connect people to people and people to information. 

More than a collection of books, libraries promote functional and digital literacy, provide a safe-space for kids, as well as adult learning, computer classes and community outreach. 

Libraries provide equal access for everyone regardless of income, race, gender or ability. They are a door to the world around us and the heart of many communities.

Lincoln County Libraries (LCL) are at a critical point as we move forward. County revenues continue to decline. The county had a $1.6 million deficit in Fiscal Year 2023-24, covered by cuts to the library and sheriff’s department and dipping into the last of a federal ARPA grant.

The decades-long income derived from timber sales is no longer a reliable source of funding. For the past three years Commissioners have encouraged the library to look for another funding source. Currently, the Library has a dedicated mill-levy of 3.49, approved by voters in 1996, with the remainder of the budget coming at the discretion of the commissioners from the county’s General Fund. 

Commissioners have told trustees the general fund will no longer support the library.

Trustees have few choices. One option is to ask voters for a dedicated mill levy. The Library already has a dedicated mill of 3.49, well short of the 10-12 mill budgets of the past 10 years. The general fund has historically covered the difference. Dedicated mills do not adjust for inflation and would require repeat ballot Resolutions to approve increases. 

The second option is to do nothing and decide how the libraries go forward with less than half their budget. That is not an option. It’s already a challenge to  keep pace with technology and aging buildings with a list of maintenance issues. Following three years of research, meetings and consulting with other libraries, trustees decided the best option for Lincoln County Libraries would be asking voters to approve an Independent Library District.

An independent Library District is not private - it is still a government entity that answers to a Board of Trustees. 

Commissioners appoint the inaugural Board and voters elect Trustees thereafter. The District would own the facilities and property, and be responsible for employee wages and benefits as well as all maintenance and improvements. 

Should voters ever decide to dissolve the district, all property, facilities and revenues would revert to the county. It’s important to note if the resolution to form a library district is approved in June, the 3.49 dedicated mill levy would be dissolved. It would be replaced with a new resolution stating the library district may levy not more than 13.49 mills. There is allowance for inflation with a cap on spending.

Trustees feel there are significant advantages to forming a district. Most importantly it creates a stable and dependable source of revenue. Revenue would still fluctuate with the value of a mill but it wouldn’t be dependent on the benevolence of commissioners. Long-range planning, much needed maintenance and expanded services are just a few of the improvements possible with stable revenue.

Asking voters to support a library district was a difficult decision and not made lightly. Trustees pay property taxes along with most other county residents. We recognize the importance of our libraries and how they add value to our communities. 

Your support for a library district is an investment in your community and the future of your libraries.