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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Government a la carte

The ballot measure to create a permanent taxing district for the Multnomah County library seems likely to pass. Most of the arguments against it aren't new, and they haven't stopped library tax measures from passing before. Multnomah's library is expensive – yes, but it puts out a great product that many people enjoy and the majority of voters supports. Taxes are already too high, government is already too big, let the private sector handle it – let’s face it, this is Portland, and those arguments, whatever their merits may be, are all nonstarters.

About the only new argument we're seeing this time around is that through the craziness of Oregon property tax "compression," a library district would take money away from other government bureaus. Opponents wheel out the Portland "children’s levy" as a victim, about to lose $1 million a year, but millions more would be drained from City Hall pet projects and the "urban renewal" scam machinery.

Is the "compression" effect going to be a winning argument against the district? We don't think so. If the children's levy comes up short, why couldn't school supporters just ask for a bigger levy next time? If the public really wants the current level of service maintained, it can vote itself a tax increase. And of all people to be crying the blues over raids on its treasury – the City of Portland is ruthless as it creates, expands, and extends its "urban renewal" developer handout programs at the expense of schools and other public services throughout the area.

We didn't like the way the library taxing district concept was presented to the voters two years ago, when the groundwork was laid for this fall's final vote. And we share some folks' suspicions that there is fat in the library budget that ought to be identified and cut. But we're not persuaded that creating the district is a bad idea. In fact, we think it has a certain appeal.

We like the idea of the public getting more directly involved in designating the programs on which its hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. We wouldn't mind if the police bureau got its own taxing district and the fire bureau its own. We'd like to see a street paving district, a street sweeping district, and a mental health treatment district, too. Let’s have all the property tax dollars spent on the services that the public wants, and stop frittering them away on streetcars and bike share programs and other tomfoolery. Anything that "compresses" the fantasies of the city's bloated planning army is aces in our book.

Comments (17)

If our elected officials had been doing their jobs right, or had left in place the need for a public vote on URA funding, rather than "compressing" basic services by giving unlimited $$ for undefined plans to the development mafia, then spinning off libraries and parks into their own districts wouldn't be necessary. Those who are advising against this are the same ones that made it necessary.

BTW, nominating Charles Jordan for CEO of the new Parks and Recreation District.

I like libraries myself and use them but I do have one concern with passing this bill. I believe libraries, as we know them, are on their way out. Internet has killed traditional print media and will likely kill off all other forms of print as well. They can be replaced with a server and a couple employees maintaining the database.

"Let’s have all the property tax dollars spent on the services that the public wants, and stop frittering them away on streetcars and bike share programs and other tomfoolery."

Sometimes direct democracy trumps a representative republic, especially when those representatives are so brain-dead. The public deserves what the public wants, even if a server and two database employees are more efficient.

Look around ... I don't know a single kid who who has gotten anything from the Children's Levy. Not a single kid, not a single program. And not saying this because I'm locked up in some Old Folks' Home.

Now, the library ...

I know folks who borrow books and movies. Folks who download music. I know kids who show up once a week to be read stories. I know other kids who read to seeing-eye dogs.

The library is for everyone, the Childrens' Levy is for Dan Saltzman.

Actually, IIRC, Dan Saltzman's lady friend is a beneficiary of spending by the "Children's Fund" board. Maybe the "Children's Fund" spending is for her, not "The Legend">

And because they are not married, none of Oregon's already-too-loose conflicts-of interest rules apply.

Sort of like Cylvia and John.

Ain't Oregon grand?

This is exactly the reason people say government does not work. Presumably, the folks elected from a like minded voter's base, would be spending monies on the same priorities most desired by the people who elected them. There would be no need for a "special taxing district". Somehow though, once in office our elected succumb to either the loudest minority or wealthiest special interest to guide their path. It's too bad we couldn't just vote on our priorities, and have them use existing tax monies to get it all done. After all, if we all agree it's a priority, then it isn't special.

Jack: We wouldn't mind if the police bureau got its own taxing district and the fire bureau its own. We'd like to see a street paving district, a street sweeping district, and a mental health treatment district, too.
JK: Next step: elect the head of each bureau.
Final steps: Do the same to a very few other important bureaus, then kill funding for the rest of them AND city council. Make city hall into a museum to government waste.

If people really want bike paths and speed bumps, let then elect Blue manure as head of roads.
If people really want 50 story condo farms next door they can elect Sam Adams to head PDC. Wait - where did this PDC come from? Oh, drat, it got left off of the list surviving of agencies.


Speaking of City of Portland being ruthless as it creates, expands, and extends developer handout programs at the expense of schools and other public services; don’t forget the 10 year tax abatement handouts the City of Portland hands out to developers for building the shoddy high density tenement slums of the future, many of them without parking, in locations where they don’t belong. It is obvious Portland has a Chief Idiot (or two) running things, and a gang of idiot cronies as backup.

If new taxes or fees are assessed, they need to come from the people who can afford to pay them, but scam or freeload off the current bias applied system. Examples include bicyclist paid user fees to pay for bicycle infrastructure instead of siphoning off motorist paid roadway dollars, and fares for the transit and streetcar passengers that truly reflect the fiscal costs of providing the service – both operational and locally paid infrastructure costs.

Subsidies for cyclists and transit do not need to be brought into the "urban renewal" debate. One talking point at a time, please.

I may be wrong, but it seems that I recall Portland's first URD going in around 50 years ago, tearing up established SE neighborhoods and installing 3 large apartment towers, among other amenities. 50 years later, it's a URD again, and Tri-Met cut down most of the trees that were planted in the area to make way for more loot rail.

Am I missing something, or is URD in Portland just a never-ending merry-go-round?

It seems to have been a never-ending merry-go-around, but once those paying for it have been picked fairly clean, it may turn into those lonely unused and stopped carousels one sees at carnivals.


I've been hearing predictions about the demise of the book for at least 20 years. It has not happened yet, nor have I seen any decrease in the interest in books. I think you'll find that interest in books is just as great as it has always been. What has changed is that library patrons now add in other media and formats. Books are as popular as ever. The library now attracts people who aren't necessarily interested in books, but who are interested in DVDs, CDs, or books on CD.

We have a ways to go before digital formats supplant print, and I doubt that they ever will. People simply have more choices in what format in which to read (or listen) to books.

Digital formats are not going to save any money. Databases can be expensive... usually in the thousands of dollars. Adding more "seats" adds to the subscription price - and that subscription has to be renewed every year (an expensive print Reference set might be purchased every 5 years to stretch the budget). One of the downsides of databases is that once you cancel the subscription, you lose access: not true for a book you by.

All the programming (book groups, children's programs, adult programming, etc...), reference help, and various patron services have not diminished. If anything, new technologies require libraries to constantly retrain their staff to help patrons adapt. The library is more than book storage. The library is frequently the communitie's family room: internet access, photocopier, word processing, etc... While you may be computer savvy, and have your own computer and internet connection, you would be surprised to see how many people don't.

Libraries will look different (and the change will most likely be gradual), but they will still be important and desired. The proof? They are busier today than they have ever been in the past.

The front page story and editorial in the August NW Examiner address a conflict of interest involving PDC chair Scott Andrews, the aborted Centennial Mills project and the proposed Portland Public Market.


Like I said, I like libraries and books myself. To me there's nothing better than holding a book in my hands and read it. But I think that's a generational thing, kids today are used to reading off their laptop, kindle, ipad, audio books, etc. Even now, if signed up to the library you can download digital books right from home to read. IE, we are already going down the road of only needing a server.

Yes, I do know they've added movies, cd's, provide printers/internet and such. All those services are also provided in other places already. That begs the question, why the mission creep by libraries. Maybe because patronage was going down so they've added extras to get people in. It will work for a while but will trail off over time.

I'm not saying libraries as we know them will die out next week. I do think in the next generation, maybe two what we have today will no longer be around.


Libraries have provided music for at least the last 50 years, if not longer. I remember working at Multnomah County Library (Central) when they checked out 8mm films (that would be over 30 years ago). There is no creep, libraries are simply providing the same content in different formats. What changed, at least for films and movies, is that whereas not everyone had an 8mm projector, a significant portion of the public did have VHS, and then DVD, players.

I think libraries will change. The change will be gradual and evolutionary as the population demographics and the way our patrons access and use information changes. However, I suspect that libraries will be just as loved and need in the foreseeable future. If the time comes that libraries are obsolete and not used, then adjustments will happen. However, libraries today are vibrant and the public has made clear that they want them.

Patronage has continued to climb because libraries have adapted to the demands and requests of their patrons. When the patronage decreases and people stop going, then libraries will be unnecessary.

FYI - eReaders are actually probably more popular with slightly older patrons (the screens on smart phones are simply too small for, ummmm, older eyes). Same with audiobooks - those tend to be more popular with older audiences than with new. And as for laptops - most sane people don't do extended reading on those unless they can't avoid it. ;)

What you see as "mission creep" I simply see as libraries providing the same basic services in new ways, and libraries responding to their patrons. The alternative would be for them to ignore the population - that is a good way to become obsolete and useless fast.

Questions about the library district proposal:

Does it establish citizen panels to oversee budget and tax proposals as well as ongoing operations?
Does it provide an analytical process for future tax rates?
Does it set a tax ceiling for future years?
Does it require an independent auditor function?
Does it put on the record that library management must be responsive to both citizen and auditor recommendations?
Does it call for "desk audits" of all positions in order to justify keeping them, retaining current salaries, reducing salary structures, or--gasp!--eliminating positions?

Ridiculous as such questions are for Portland's sheeplike voters, citizens in Josephine County will be voting to set up a special library district that is much more tough-minded, and that will be closer in touch with the community than our bureaucracy. One aspect that would be unthinkable here: Its employees will not be participants in PERS. Our district will surely grandfather everyone, rather than look for constructive solutions to the rising cost of personnel.

Multnomah County's commissioners will be the ex officio Library District Board. How much time do you really believe they'll devote to that obligation, compared to many other functions that normally have higher priorities, like social services, mental health, etc.? One can assume that the library district's director and various managers will have cozy berths, even farther removed from accountability than at present.

Proposal for Josephine County's special library district:


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