Voters to decide on library fee

City Councilors Dan Kohler, Laura Reid and Shaney Starr comprise the Library Work Group

Keizer’s new City Manager Adam Brown proposed a motion for the May 16 City Council meeting directing staff to prepare a ballot question for voters to decide on whether to authorize city funds for converting Keizer Community Library into a public library. At the end of the meeting the council voted 5-2 for a ballot measure.

“Public libraries change lives,” said Keizer Community Library (KCL) board officer B.J. Toewe, as she asked for the City Council to approve a library fee without sending the issue to voters. She was only one of more than a dozen Keizer residents who appeared at the council meeting to advocate for the project.

Toewe told the story of how a youth services manager at Salem Public Library recently shared an email from a library user which claimed public libraries had literally saved her life, enabling her to escape from an abusive childhood and providing hope for a future which was later realized. She said such stories are something she’s come to expect in her profession.

Toewe has appeared at every city council meeting since the proposal was first made, and summed up her efforts in one final plea to the council.

“We’ve discussed every point in favor of a public library with you during our public meetings,” she said. “Each of you have indicated you support a public library. Unfortunately no one in this room knows how a money measure will go in November’s election.”

The council vote follows the Library Work Group meeting on May 3 chaired by Councilor Dan Kohler, which took up the issue of how the city would pay for a public library when the proposed federal funding runs out. Also participating in that meeting were Councilors Laura Reid and Shaney Starr. While all three stated a desire for a public library, Reid voted to recommend the city add a fee to cover costs, while Kohler and Starr voted for a ballot measure, first.

The project, jointly-proposed and presented to the council by Toewe and Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Services (CCRLS) Executive Director John Hunter at a work session on April 6, would initially cost $395,000 over three years – paid for out of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.  

The project calls for a three-year trial period during which CCRLS will update their membership requirements and KCL will get into compliance with them. During and at end of that process, KCL would gradually become a full-member, enabling Keizer residents to have access to local and regional library services they currently don’t have.

Hunter said he doesn’t anticipate KCL having any problems meeting requirements, and that the proposed funding would be enough to cover compliance costs.

Toewe and Hunter both returned May 3 to continue making their case for the project to the work group and to explain some of the details behind the regional funds KCL would have access to as a public library, offsetting the costs to taxpayers in Keizer.

Brown’s May 16 motion was to prepare an ordinance which would allow $1 to be added to the bi-monthly utilities bill for Keizer residents. He said the annual amount requested could not be sustained from the General Fund.

An additional issue is timing. According to City Councilor Shaney Starr, the costs of waiting on the issue are prohibitive – adding that the council has time to get it on the upcoming ballot for free, but that it would cost more than $10,000 to put in on a future one.

The final vote by the council did not specify an amount for the fee – the council referred the matter back to the Library Work Group in order to determine what the ballot measure would be called and to settle on a proposed dollar amount.  

Mayor Cathy Clark said this allows for adjustments to be made, but puts a great deal of pressure on the City Council to educate voters about the issue in time for a November vote.

Councilors Laura Reid and Roland Hererra voted no on the ballot measure. Reid renewed her appeal from May 3 to put the issue before the council for a vote instead, pointing out that many of the beneficiaries of a public library are not voters – including undocumented workers, adolescents and children. Her arguments, as well as an impassioned plea from Toewe, seemed to sway Hererra.

“I came in thinking we should put it before the people for a vote, but now I’m leaning the other way,” said Herrera.

“We’re going to get on this quickly,” said Mayor Clark, assuring council members and attendees that the deadline for the November ballot will not be missed.