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OC's plans for library expansion will head to May ballot

Oregon City voters can expect to see their library’s proposed $10 million renovation and expansion on the May ballot.

Voters would need to approve the city taking out $6 million in debt to pay for the portion of its Carnegie Center project not covered by its reserve fund or Clackamas County.

After adopting the ballot title earlier this month, city commissioners are expected to approve an architect’s contract and an explanatory statement for the library measure on their agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting. During the next 20 years, excising sources of library funding would pay $475,000 annually toward the debt.

City leaders have been looking for a solution ever since the library lost its lease on 13,000 square feet at Danielson’s Hilltop Mall in 2010. The Eastham building couldn’t support the weight of books, so the library downsized to the 7,000-square-foot Carnegie Building.

“The size of our library is nowhere near the size that it needs to be to serve our entire district, which goes out to Redland and Beavercreek,” said Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley. “We’ve got a good portion of what we need, but to save up for the rest would take quite a long time.”

Residents of unincorporated Oregon City who are part of the county’s library district also would help pay off the debt if the measure passes in May. Only the some 16,000 voters in Oregon City proper would be able to mark their ballots for the measure. However, Neeley said the entire population of more than 54,000 served by the library will benefit from its expansion and renovation to provide not only more book space, but also more access job-seeking services, kids activities and other programs.

“The public library is the great equalizer. All people, regardless of economic, social or educational status, have access to books and other print material, Internet and Wi-Fi services, media such as CDs and DVDs, programs and many other resources and services,” Neeley said. “With the planned new library, these items and services will be greatly expanded and diversified.”

As the City Commission unanimously adopted a ballot title Feb. 5, commissioners spent a lot of time discussing whether to say they “intend” not to raise taxes for the measure or “expect” not to raise taxes. They would have rather said they “will not raise taxes.” But if the city didn’t approve the general obligation bond with the “intention” not to raise taxes, it would have to pay a higher interest rate.

“That is what we have to say because the city does not intend to raise taxes to pay for the measure because you already have sufficient revenues coming in. However to get the best interest rate, you have to pledge the full faith and credit of the city,” City Manager David Frasher told city commissioners.

Commissioners and other library supporters will campaign for the measure to pass. Although Frasher and Library Director Maureen Cole discussed the limitations on nonelected city officials to advocate for the measure, city employees and Library Board members can campaign in their unpaid time.

Last year, citizens and officials alike oohed and aahed over the designs presented by the architect. Neeley said the design’s intent is to build the new facility in the back of the old library, and integrate certain historical architectural features into the new one, so the renovation will provide a seamless effect both in the look and function of the library.