February 14, 2002 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Following the old adage that you must crawl before you can walk, a Union County committee studying the possibility of a library district crept quietly Wednesday into an exchange of ideas about libraries.

With little public notification of the meeting, the committee headed by Jerry Young began discussions about the type of district needed and the importance of public support.

Union County does not have a central library system, although most of the towns do have some type of public library. Last fall, Young asked the county commissioners to appoint a committee to discuss the creation of a countywide district.

Young said Wednesday that a district could probably operate with a tax rate of about 65 cents per $1,000 of property value, the state average, which would lower the rates for the three Union County cities that have public libraries supported by property taxes.

The three, La Grande, Elgin and Union, all have rates above the average, with La Grandes 78 cents per $1,000; Elgins 81 cents, and Unions 70 cents. The county contributes only small amounts to the three libraries, and many people in the rural areas pay virtually no money for library support, although they may use any of the libraries.

The annual income for the three city libraries is about $370,000, with another $26,000 coming from the county. Young said he has calculated that at about 65 cents per $1,000, the library district could collect about $668,000 annually.

Joel Goldstein, a La Grande city councilor, said the people of Union County will want to know how much they will pay in taxes and what they will get for their money.

Committee member Doc Savage agreed.

It will be a tough sell to those people who pay zero dollars and have full library access, Savage said.

Several members of the committee, including John Van Schoonhoven, urged the committee to move cautiously as it makes decisions.

Among the issues that must be discussed and determined before a district budget can be developed are whether the district will provide the physical plant, the maintenance and janitorial services, a central payroll system, and set hours of operation.

The committee will continue its meetings March 13 in the Oregon Department of Transportation conference room, with a presentation on property taxes by Assessor Patty Gooderham.

The district cannot be formed without a vote of the people of Union County.

No decision has been made as to when officials will put the district to a vote.