County votes to take another run at the library funding hill

13 Jul

By a 5-0 vote, the Hood River County Board of Commissioners on Monday afternoon decided to take another funding proposal to voters in November.

The levy amount — as part of a broader funding package that might include such things as grants, fees and gifts — has yet to be determined. But it will definitely be lower than the 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation that voters rejected in a May vote.

Gary Rains, principal of Rains Marketing, told the board that his firm had yet to complete a telephone survey of about 100 voters living in areas that voted against the first funding proposal. Pollers have spoken with about 60 voters.

Results of those conversations showed three discernible trends, Rains said:

  • Strong support for a second ballot proposal, as part of a multi-faceted funding package
  • Support for a levy, inversely proportional to the size of the levy (i.e. stronger support for 30 cents per $1,000 than 50 cents per $1,000)
  • Marginal support for an independent service district, as opposed to a “special district” that would operate under county board guidance.

Rains said the polling showed that many voters were confused about how the first ballot proposal would work. More people had concern about the impact of the proposed 70-cent levy limit (supporters had said the full amount likely would not have been levied to start, but that the amount provided long-term stability). Poll respondents also were clearly supportive of the need for a library.

County Administrator Dave Meriwether had provided the board and public a memo comparing the pluses and minuses of the two types of district:

  1. Special District – Independent, supported by tax levy, has its own board of directors, able to set policies on hiring and benefits independent of the county and its labor agreements, including use of the costly Public Employee Retirement System. The higher the levy, the more likely it would be to function independently. The lower the levy, the more reliance on unpredictable revenue sources.
  2. Service District – has a dedicated tax levy with policy guidance provided by the board of commissioners and administrative support either directly through the county, or through a contracted management firm. Less autonomy, but great ability to compete for additional public support in the event that levy revenues fall short of needs.

Three speakers from the library support group said they favored pursuing an independent district. They offered to work with the county to form a committee that would draft a model funding package.

Debra Phillips, a member of that group, said the group would kick off its support campaign at 6:30 Wednesday, July 14, at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1140 Tucker Road.

Kim Kean of the county elections office noted that the November ballot will be full of other measures and candidate races, competing for public attention. Turnout at such elections, however, is typically much greater — 60 percent or higher — than at elections in May, which can range well below 50 percent of the electorate. She noted also that the vote will occur right after the county sends out annual notice of property taxes. She said library supporters will need to make a convincing case in the upper Hood River Valley, where orchardists and other landowners typically vote only to support school measures.

Meriwether was to visit city councils in Hood River and Cascade Locks on Monday evening, seeking their approval to include the cities inside the proposed special district.

As a result of the decision to pursue a special district in November, people interested in running for the board of that district will have until Aug. 24 to file for the ballot. A public hearing on the proposal will be held Aug. 12.

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