When you, the voters, rallied to create a special taxing district for your library, you permanently set us up to operate independently, free from oversight of other government agencies.
This is a gift the Chetco Community Public Library board and staff are thankful for, and an arrangement which greatly benefits our community.
While most people are very familiar with public libraries, I think we sometimes forget the immense value they bring to their communities. Not only do we espouse and encourage the ideals of equality, free access to ideas, and privacy, we also play a direct role in enriching the lives of our community members.
We are partners in educating our youth, we provide lifelong learning and entertainment for free, we provide a warm (or cool) and comfortable place for people of all backgrounds and ages, we provide community gathering spaces, and more.
Neither should we forget that public libraries are the great equalizers of our society. As colleges raise tuition, as schools have their funding cut, as internet access and technology become more essential to life … the public library provides. We step in where there are gaps, and we are always toiling in the background to keep our communities strong and vibrant.
Some libraries in Oregon operate under county or city management, and those libraries envy the flexibility that special-district libraries have. Our library’s independence as a special district allows us to respond quickly to community needs without having to navigate bureaucracy or seek permission from those who may have different priorities. We don’t have to fight for funding for new projects or services, because our community has already decided that libraries are a valuable and worthy investment, and that we work best when we can focus our full energy on the library users in our community.
Creating a countywide library district would most certainly limit that ability. The Chetco district is different from the Gold Beach, Langlois, Agness and Port Orford districts. What is good for Agness or Gold Beach may not be good for Chetco, and vice versa … and if we were forced to operate under one district, our services would become more homogenized and less specialized.
In fact, your Curry County libraries already choose to work together in the areas that benefit you most. We banded together to create the Curry Library Foundation, which allows us to financially work together for specific projects. Just last month, we purchased access to the Chilton Auto Repair and Mango Languages databases for all library users in Curry County. By combining our purchasing power, we were able to save money that can now be used for other services.
Additionally, since 2017 the Curry County library districts have all been a part of the Coastline Libraries Network. This consortium consists of all libraries in Curry and Coos counties, and allows us to share materials and administrative costs.
Your library is organized, fiscally responsible and always looking for the most effective way to spend your tax dollars.
Let’s look at how far your tax dollars go. In 1992, our district population was 12,072, and we received $318,116 in total revenue. With inflation, that equals about $581,000 in today’s money.
In 2018, the district population had risen to 14,074, and we received $709,898. That seems like a big increase. But if we break that down to the amount we receive a year per capita, in 1992 it was $48 per person, and in 2018 it was $52 per person.
So, in 27 years our tax income has only increased by the equivalent of $4 per person. With that extra $4, your library has done incredible things. In 1992, Chetco Library patrons had access to 28,000 books. Now, Chetco Library patrons have access to 1.1 million books, DVDs, audiobooks and e-books.
In 1992, we had 4.3 FTE employees. Now we have over 9, and each has a specific role in serving the entire district. We have added computers and free internet, meeting room spaces, online resources, a bookstore and so much more.
Let me be clear: the library is not holding your tax dollars back to create a large reserve. We spend your tax dollars on you.
After the Chetco Library was built, we were able to pay off our 15-year debt in 12 years. So, the board wisely decided to take the money allocated in our budget for debt repayment and set it aside for repairs, expansion and upkeep.
That money went into a fund separate from our general operating expenses, called our Library Improvement Fund. But the amount in that fund is not all tax dollars. Rather, over the years various generous donations and bequeaths have been added to it. This fund has been invested for the 15 years the account has existed, and it has been growing steadily over that time.
Because of the generous donations and our library board’s prudent planning and responsible investments, we now have a Library Improvement Fund of $2,047,000 (not $2.7 million as has previously been reported). With this fund, we have the financial means necessary to ensure well-maintained and functional facilities that can adapt to evolving community needs.
Our building is now 26 years old and our community is growing. In the coming years, we have major projects that must be done, such as replacing the carpet and the roof, repairing the parking lot, and maintaining or completely replacing a 26-year-old HVAC system that is limping along.
Additionally, our meeting room and event spaces are not sufficient to meet community demand. Our library’s large meeting room has a capacity of 81 people, but we frequently have events that require space for many more. Our small conference room is always booked, so we are frequently unable to grant community requests for meeting room space.
If we had a venue that could hold more people, we would be able to offer more programs and more spaces for our community to use. Subsequently, I am exploring expansion options for the board’s consideration.
Simply put, it is unreasonable to conclude that because a special district is financially secure, their savings must mean they don’t need the money they receive. A well-funded library and a fiscally responsible board of directors is something this community can be proud of, and something it should fight to keep.
I thank you all for your ongoing enthusiastic support. I know the directors of the other Curry County library districts thank you as well. We are grateful because our voters saw how much libraries contribute to the health and vitality of any community, and they used their votes to ensure that we would always be here.
A thriving library reflects a thriving community, and a struggling library reflects a struggling community. Let’s continue to let our libraries thrive.
Julie Retherford is the Director of the Chetco Community Public Library in Brookings. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.