One of the most significant chapters in the 105-year story of the Union Carnegie Public Library is about to be written.
The chapter could leave the short-term financial future of the library as solid as the binding of a new coffee table book or as fragile as a well-worn paperback.
Voters will author the chapter’s conclusion when they cast ballots in a mail election for a five-year option levy for the library. Ballots for the election will be mailed to Union voters from the Union County Clerk’s office Oct. 18 and are due back Nov. 7.
The option levy would raise about $118,000 a year, enough to fund the library’s proposed 2018-19 operating budget, according to Interim Union City Administrator Rod McKee.
The option levy would cost property owners about $1.21 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. This means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $121 a year for the levy.
The levy would replace a five-year option levy for the library that expired June 30. That levy cost property owners 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and raised about $37,000 a year for the library. This gave the library about half of its operating budget, the rest of which was provided by the city and miscellaneous money including grants from Union County and the state.
The city is spending $96,857 to operate the library in 2017-18 following the expiration of the 2012-2017 levy, McKee said.
Should voters reject the levy, the library would be almost totally dependent upon the city to finance its operating budget. Union City Councilor Randy Knop said this would place the library in a precarious position because there is no guarantee the city will provide the library with the additional money it needs.
“The library could be in peril, (if) its fate is put in the hands of politicians,” Knop said.
Knop was part of a council vote on Aug. 14 to add the library levy to the Nov. 7 ballot.
Union Mayor Leonard Flint said he is not certain what will happen if the levy fails.
“We would try to figure something out (to fund the library),” Flint said.
The mayor said the council would look at a number of alternatives in an attempt to allow the library to maintain its level of services.
Should the levy pass, the library’s operating budget in 2018-19 would be about $23,000 more than it is now. McKee said that approximately $16,000 of this would cover the cost of adding two part-time employees. He said the employees would be a valuable addition because the library now has an all-volunteer staff with the exception of Louise Shelden, the library’s director. McKee said it is more difficult to provide consistent programs with volunteer labor.
The library’s proposed 2018-19 budget would also include about $5,000 for major building maintenance or improvement work, if the levy is approved. McKee noted that the current library budget does not include money for these things. He said funding for this is especially important in light of the building’s age.
“It needs some TLC,” McKee said.
Shelden said that should the levy pass, there is a good chance that Saturday morning operating hours could be added. The library is presently open 32.5 hours a week, Monday through Friday.
People coming to the library have a lot from which to choose, Shelden said, including 22,136 print books, 23,280 books that can be downloaded to electronic devices, 1,621 DVDs and VHS tapes, and access to materials from the 75 other libraries that are also part of the Sage Library Consortium in Eastern and Central Oregon.
Union City Councilor Walt Brookshire believes the library could not have a better person than Shelden managing its collections and running programs, such as its summer children’s reading program.
“(Shelden) does a phenomenal job. The energy she brings is just tremendous,” Brookshire said. “I am not sure there is a finer librarian in Northeast Oregon.”
There are 1,931 registered patrons with library cards who live in the Union area, Shelden said. These registered patrons include Becky Platz of Union, a supporter of the library levy.
“I don’t think people understand all that is available to them,” Platz said. “The library is a vital part of the community.”