Portland voters have significant choices to make in the November election about how to spend their valuable tax dollars on education and culture. Three worthy causes are on the local ballot. In our opinion, two of the funding proposals deserve voter approval, while a third should wait for another day.
Multnomah County library district: Vote yes.
The plan to provide permanent funding for one of the nation’s most-loved library systems has been years, if not decades, in the making.
Good news for taxpayers is that the library system — which includes the Central Library and 18 branches throughout Portland and Multnomah County — can be preserved for a relatively low cost. The library district, if approved, would cost the typical homeowner only about $4 per month beyond what he or she already is spending to support libraries.
Multnomah County’s libraries are funded primarily by a temporary levy that must be re-approved every three to five years. Because of quirks in Oregon’s property tax limitation laws, the library doesn’t get the full value of that levy — which means that its funding is continually being squeezed.
Approval of the library district, with a tax rate capped at $1.24 per $1,000 of assessed value, would eliminate the need to hold an election every few years to decide if the county wants to continue having a library system.
Multnomah County’s libraries always rate among the most-used in America. In addition to being centers of research and entertainment for families, they also support education in a variety of ways, including the summer reading program that keeps tens of thousands of children engaged in reading during the time that school is not in session.
It’s true that approval of a library district would cost the city of Portland a few million dollars in diverted tax revenue, due to the phenomenon known as property-tax compression. But consider what the libraries mean to Portland, and what they add to quality of life.
Voters, at least, understand the value of libraries. A county charter amendment to allow a library district received overwhelming support in the November 2010 election. In May, voters also agreed — by a stunning 5-1 margin — to renew the current levy at a rate of 89 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Voters should take the final step by approving Measure 26-143 and establishing a library tax rate that will prove highly affordable for most people, while ensuring that Multnomah County always will have excellent library services.
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