Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Save Our Libraries

This is the picture now displayed on the home page of our library system's web site.

There is is a mixture of sadness and anger in our community this week. There is a strong consensus that loss of library access is not good for the community but there is not much consensus on what should be done about it.
The sadness needs little explanation. The anger is a complex cauldron.
Some of the anger is directed at the county officials because of a perception that funds have been mismanaged, or that they dithered too long in creating a replacement for the Federal safety net monies due to expire last year.
Some are angry with the Federal environmental laws and the 'loony tree-huggers' who filed suit after suit over the years to stop the logging on the Federal lands which was providing the income for the rural counties that then needed to be replaced with the 'safety net' money known as the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act which expired in December when Congress failed to renew it.
Some are angry because they perceive the library closures as a blatant attempt by certain county officials to manipulate public sympathies against the logging restrictions and in favor of solutions that propose selling millions of acres of public land to create trust funds for the counties.

Besides sadness and anger there is anxiety on the part of supporters of county ballot measure 15-75 which would fund the libraries at current levels of service for another three years with a tax of 66 cents per $1000 of assessed property value. This is estimated to average about $9 per month for the average home owner in the county. Anxiety stems from several concerns, not the least of which is that tax measures are notoriously difficult to pass in Southern Oregon. Then there is the requirement of a better than 50% voter turnout with a better than 50% yes vote in order for the measure to pass and Southern Oregon is also known for low voter turnout. The fact that a similar levy garnered less than a 50% approval last November when hotly contested Federal Congressional and State Gubernatorial races provided a bigger draw than the election this May is expected to contributes to the anxiety.

Those who suspect that interest in last November's version of the levy was impacted by the hope then current that Congress would vote to renew the county safety net after the fall recess. A hope that was to be disabused. If that was the case then, a similar reluctance to pass the levy could be induced by the fact that a three year extension of the county monies has been inserted into the emergency appropriations bill for the Iraq war--the one Bush is threatening to veto because of the time lines it contains. But that D.C. imbroglio could drag out for several more weeks and it hasn't been decided yet whether, if it passes, the county monies would be forthcoming at the beginning of the fiscal year this summer or at the end of this year.

Nor does it help that county officials are murmuring to the effect that even if the levy passes it could be months, if not the beginning of next year before the libraries could be reopened because of the complexity of collecting and disbursing the money..

Thus it is that the campaign to save our libraries is going to be an uphill battle.

More information about the issues involved can be found on the website of the Association of Oregon Counties.

The Southern Oregon Library website is still hosting its infoblog which continues to post breaking news relevant to the library closure and personal testimonials. One post from January 27 is regularly updated with links to the most recent news from newspaper articles to TV broadcasts and even blogs. The newer links are added above the older links which makes this particular post a good resource for following the complexities of this story over time.

Meridith May's San Francisco Chronicle article is still one of the better overviews of the situation as it stood a month ago.
And Open Democracy, an anonymous local blog, gives some good background info as well as a taste of some of the passions and personalities involved in this local drama which is fast becoming a national spectacle.

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