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Library asks voters to fund countywide operations
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker County voters will be asked to consider two ballot measures in the Nov. 5 election that will allow the library district to finish the refurbishing job it began four years ago, and to extend library improvements to all county residents.
On the ballot is a $780,000 bond levy over four years to improve branch libraries in Haines, Richland, Halfway and Huntington, and to pay off the additional $60,000 bond needed to complete the Baker City branch.
Voters also will decide on a four-year local option levy of $64,000 per year to be used to buy books, extend branch hours, provide a second Bookmobile run per week, and add a second day of technical support.
The goal is to return the book budget and library service levels back to where they were in the early '90s, according to Librarian Aletha Bonebrake. The additional technology support will be needed to manage $83,000 in new technology the county will receive from the Gates Foundation in mid-November, she said.
The two measures would cost about $281,500 per year, she said. Taxpayers would be charged about 31.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $31.30 per year if the ballot measures are approved.
Passage of the ballot measures would not increase the tax burden, it would simply extend it for another four years, Bonebrake said. The new levy would begin just as the current one ends.
Under the current library levy, which expires in June 2003, taxpayers are billed 31.7 cents for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
The branch renovations would be made based on feasibility studies completed with $20,000 allocated by the state Legislature, Bonebrake said.
"We chose to focus on the branches, which have been essentially unchanged since countywide service was established in 1961," she said.
The study showed that the branches need more space for technology and children's collections, and more seating for adults.
Huntington is the only community that has provided its own branch, which is attached to its new City Hall building, Bonebrake said. Until recent moves at Halfway and Richland, the Huntington library was the only library that had its own bathrooms.
Funds raised through the bond levy would be used to expand the Huntington library on property to be donated by the city of Huntington.
The Haines library is housed in the "old, cold historic building" that served as the former City Hall and still is used for City Council meetings, Bonebrake said.
Plans call for a new building to be constructed at Haines, also on property to be donated by the city. The library would be attached to the historic City Hall building, which the city plans to renovate for use as a community center.
The library portion of the community complex would include a special room devoted to an agricultural collection to serve the county's entire agriculture community, Bonebrake said. Andi Sexton of Haines has volunteered to help develop the collection.
Even before voters will be asked to fund the improvements, changes have been made at the Richland and Halfway branches. The Richland branch recently moved to the Richland Elementary School building. The space was donated by the Pine-Eagle School District to provide more public use of the school, which has seen a dramatic decrease in its enrollment over the past several years.
Community volunteers helped move the library from its former location in the Brooks Electronics Store at Richland to the school during the past month and a half. The library opened in its new location just last week. Work still must be done to make the former center wing of the elementary school offices more efficient for library use, Bonebrake said.
The Halfway branch moved from its former location at the Tri-Color Building in the center of town to the Masonic Lodge on Aug. 7. The library district is buying that building for $50,000. The lodge donated the $10,000 down payment.
Bonebrake reminds Baker City voters that in 1998, residents of every community in the county supported the $1 million bond levy that paid to refurbish and add to the Baker City branch.
And in order for the new measures to pass, the residents of Baker City must give the outlying communities their support this time around, she said.
"We are the only tax-supported library district that serves the entire county in Eastern Oregon," she said. "And we were the first permanent tax-based library district in Oregon.
"It's just amazing. People in Baker need to support this because they should be very, very proud of their library district," she said.
Public support is a necessity to continue the library services, Bonebrake said, noting that the library district gets 98.2 percent of its funding from local property taxes. Library fines and fees are the only other funding sources.
"We have no choice but to go to the people and say ... do you want us to provide this service?'" she added.
"Whatever answer they give us is OK," she said. "They will get the service they are able and willing to pay for."
Nancy Johnson of Baker City is president of the Library District Board. Other members, who are elected as at-large directors, are Lewis Aldrich of Haines, Nellie Forrester of Halfway and Betty Palmer and David Giles, both of Baker City.
Johnson also is hopeful that Baker City residents will be good neighbors and help improve branch libraries in the county's other communities.
"They helped us; we'll help them," she said.
She noted that the smaller communities were very supportive when the 1998 levy was passed to improve the Baker City branch.
"I just feel like it would be only fair for Baker City to support the outlying areas," she said.
"This would be a real boon to the county and I think to Baker City, too," she added. "We take pride in our county and that's just part of it."