Q&A with the Library Director About a Library District

By Vicepresident / On / In Members

Introduction:  An informational session was held at AFSCME on August 9, 2010 to discuss the possible formation of a Library District. People attended from Local 88 leadership (Michael Hanna, Grant Swanson, Larry Randall, Tom Newsom, Janet Irwin), Local 88 Staff representative (Eileen Tilque), Library HR Manager (Shelly Kent), Director (Vailey Oehlke) , Deputy Director (Becky Cobb), Library Foundation (Merris Sumrall), represented staff from several locations, and AFSCME political staff (Joe Bassler).

Vailey’s opening remarks: Right now there are lots of unknowns, so we are focusing on the November 2, 2010 ballot initiative where there is a vote on whether to change the County Charter to allow for the option of creating a Library District in the future. If the November 2nd ballot initiative is approved, the Board of County Commissioners would have to vote to move a second ballot initiative in front of the voters that would create the Library District .

Background of how we got here. Annual MCL budget is $62 million from the levy and the general fund. These are volatile funding sources. 22% of these funds are coming from the county’s general fund and the other 65% is from the levy. The remaining 13% comes from other sources. The portion of our budget from the county has been decreasing from a historic high of around 70% down to the current 22%. Our current levy ends in June 2012. We are up for a levy vote every 4-5 years. We have these 2 lump sums of money, the general fund and levy, that have different pressures on them. Several folks in this community want to find a more stable way to fund the library. One good thing about a Library District (LD) is a single source of money that will remain dedicated to the library. It would be subject to the ups and downs of property taxes. A Library funding task force was formed and met for about 18 months to come up with various funding models. The recommendation from this committee was to look at a LD for more stable funding. The Charter Review Committee recommended a LD as well and submitted their findings in the form of measure 26-114 .

Question #1: A Local 88 leader asked if the November 2nd ballot measure would allow the voters to directly decide the Charter change without having to ask permission from other city municipalities (this was tried in 1987 and the City of Portland said no)?
Answer: Vailey said yes, the voters will decide the Charter change without the OK from other municipalities.

Question #2: An AFSCME staff member asked if the Charter change gets passed in November, would the vote on the district rate be at the same time as the vote on the district creation?
Answer: Vailey said yes, the vote on the rate and approval of the district would happen at the same time. There could be 3 votes (Charter amendment, one for levy, one for district and the rate). The rate, either through the levy or district vote, will be a significant increase (expect sticker shock on whichever method is put before the voters).

Break for the Library Foundation introduction by Merris Sumrall: They support the library through outreach programs and can support political (levy and district) campaigns. They get to explain the work that the library does and be an advocate for the library in the community. Has seen the financial folks at the library “sweat” each year when the budget cycles happen for the library. They are sobered and worried about the polling that states that anything that looks like a tax will be voted down. Mentioned a Gates Foundation study that looked at messaging for library folks that either got their funding or not. They are trying to duplicate the successful messaging for this (these) campaigns.

Larry Randall (Local 88 Library Chief Steward who sat on an 18 month funding committee with Molly Raphael) mentioned that the last levy was passed by a high amount. The levy campaigns cost a lot of money and man-hours ($400K + for the last one). He assumes the Foundation would like to help secure funding in a more efficient manner.

Michael Hanna chimed in about the Local 88 aspect to helping with those campaigns, phone banking, messaging, donations to the campaign etc.

Question #3 Library staff asked if a ballot message would be created to help citizens understand the issue?
Answer: Vailey says she is always impressed by the level of citizen involvement and agrees that the messaging to these active citizens is important.

Question #4: A library worker asked who proposed the District idea?
Answer: Vailey said that two citizen groups made this recommendation: one set up by Ted Wheeler (the Library funding task force) and, this year, the Charter Review Committee. The Charter Review Committee (set up every 6 years) process was explained in more detail by Vailey, and the fact that any amendments the CRC agrees on are referred to the voters. This is where the Library district ballot choice comes from.

Question #5 to Merris (from the Library Foundation): How do you know that 20% of your time and money goes to levy campaigns?
Answer: Merris said this is how tracking of funds is done within non-profits. Vailey chimed in: We have two non-profit groups that support the Library: the Foundation that is a non-profit and the Friends an older (1972) group that is supportive of our levies.

Comment #6 from a Library worker: She feels getting a single source-funding stream would be easier to prepare for (or plan for). This was a comment, not a question.

Question #7: If the district gets formed, would we still be a part of the county and would we have any formal relationship with the county?
Answer: Vailey said the CRC amendment brought forward would make the Board of County Commissioners the Board of the library. If a district were formed, the Library District, not the county, would be the employer. Employee compensation would remain the same for a year by state statute (legally mandated 12 months).

Michael chimed in about the union aspect of this question. Michael outlined how represented employees would become either another sub-local or form a completely new AFSCME local (with a new local #). He mentioned another structure possibility would be each of the sub-locals would have individual leaders that would act as president for matters for their sub-local and there would be another sub-local Vice president. It is an internal Local 88 matter on the structure. Under either scenario, a sub-local or a new local, we would have to bargain a new contract.

Vailey said the goal is not to make the jobs worse and to try to keep the jobs similar to what we currently have.

Merris, Library Foundation representative, stated that what is on the ballot in November will just be an option. It will only create more options for library funding.

Michael added on that even if the formation of a District is still a long ways off there are a lot of questions already floating out there and a lot of answers that have yet to be determined. He suggested that we do research to get answers to these unknowns.

Question #8: Are there other districts outside of Oregon that we can look to for a roadmap?
Answer: Vailey said there are 24 LD’s in Oregon and many more across the country. Outside of Oregon, library budgets are suffering nationwide. We are living in a shifting environment, and library systems are struggling.

Question #9: We live in a bubble, and we have made the library a community center. We have respect and support for the library. If we become a district, will we be as responsive to the public without the reoccurring levy vote? And would the Library’s relationship with the union change?
Answer: Vailey said that she believes employees provide good customer because they believe in public service rather than their only motivation being the levy vote. Vailey then went on to paint the picture of drastic closures that would need to be made without the levy funding and only relying upon the County general fund. A 65% cut to the Library budget will not allow us to continue business as we are now. She also stated that at some point, it is likely that we will take a hit on the amount of money that we will receive from the general fund. It is important that we look at a stable funding source.

For the relationship with the union, Vailey believes she has a good relationship with Local 88 leadership and does not see why that would change if we became a district.

Question #10: If we get locked into a single tax rate amount, what would happen if our costs continue to rise and our funding remains flat for 10-15 years?
Answer: Vailey said this is already the scenario that we are seeing today. Doing more with less and no matter what rate we set it will be hard to continue. So, this may be the reality.

Question #11: Will the tax rate for a district be a flat amount subject to the ups and downs of the economy?
Answer: Yes. Michael explained the structural deficit for many public employers in Oregon.

Becky Cobb (library Deputy Director) explained compression, and how local levies take the brunt of this compression. Becoming a district will drop the Library down in the compression hierarchy (the levy is at $0.89/$1,000, but due to compression we get anywhere from 13% to 28% less than that). The more of these types of districts get added, as time goes on, the less money there will be to go around. By becoming a district, compression wouldn’t hit the Library as hard as it currently does.

Comment #12 comment by Local 88 staff rep: Mentioned that cities are de-paving (breaking and removing paved roads) roads due to budget problems, so they don’t have to keep them maintained.

Question #13: Would the District tax remain in place forever if it passes?
Answer: Yes.

Question #14: What kind of working relationship would there be between employees and management? Would we have any guarantees to the workers?
Answer: Vailey said she would make no guarantees because of all of the unknowns. It is her hope that conditions would not substantially change and that there would not be a negative impact on workers.

Question #15: An Oregonian article with comments brought the question about the capped amount for property taxes if a District is formed. How will the cap affect these efforts?
Answer: Vailey said this is a difficult question. She believes the levy money will continue to be compressed as more municipal services take from the same pie. This problem will not be addressed without a structural change to public funding (measure 5 and 50 reform, local tax reform, kicker reform etc.).

Question #16: A library worker has a big concern about full time managers and part time staff; she is looking at the non-living wage positions that the library creates. Will this trend continue if the Library becomes a district?
Answer: Vailey said it is not a given that this trend will continue. It is her goal that we will continue to provide good service to the community.

Michael chimed in that employees are members of a larger organization (AFSCME Council 75, 26,000 workers, and AFSCME International 1.6 Million members) and wherever we have a fight we band together to fight for our workers. AFSCME would be watching these types of issues and addressing it with Library management.

Question #17: When would bargaining of the new contract happen?
Answer: There was a general discussion from Local 88 leadership and Library management that we would bargain the contract in the year after a district would be created. Until a new contract was agreed upon, we would enter into temporary agreements. Larry chimed in that from the time that the district vote gets added to the ballot (well before the vote), this would create a “notice to bargain” before the vote happens. [Note: the bargaining before the District is formed would be “impact bargaining” and not negotiations for the new contract.] ORS 198 (Special Districts Generally) was cited as one way (this would be included on the ballot) a District can be formed. Library Foundation rep says she wants a big win this November to set the stage for future elections.

Question #18: Can Levies be longer then 5 years?
Answer: No

Vailey offered possible vote scenarios (dates when levy or district, and when we can go out for these).

Here is a potential timeline with a focus on the November amendment election. The results of the November election will give us a sense of the public opinion on this option.

Possible scenarios:

1. Amendment changing the Charter passes in November

Option A: Board could choose to build on momentum and move to a district election in May 2011.

Option B: Board could choose to wait on a district referral and move to a levy renewal in November 2011. If the levy failed, there could be a 2nd levy election in May of 2012 before the levy expires in June. Board could then choose to refer a district to the ballot in 2013 or later.

2. Amendment fails in November

Levy election in November 2011; follow up election in May 2012 if needed.

Question #19: When was the last time a levy vote failed?
Answer: Becky said the levy failed in May 2002 due to needing a double majority vote. Another vote was held in November 2002 and it passed. A levy did fail in the early 80’s (part of an A/B ballot), that caused two branches to close and some staff to be laid off.

Question #20: Would we be able to keep buying our health benefits with the county (since we retain some relationship with the board)?
Answer: No one could answer this; this has been asked and has yet to be determined. Michael said retirees have a non-county employee exception, so he feels a pool of covered employees could be a possibility. He also stated that a public employee pool may be formed legislatively. The issue is currently being looked at and will hopefully go to Salem (or legislature) this next session.

Question #21: Have library Management thought about which combined services the library would want to continue to get from the County, such as FSO’s, payroll, or IT?
Answer: Becky stated that we have not done the analysis yet and doesn’t know what would stay and what would go. This could be transitional over a few years after the formation of the district. We will move those discussions forward after we know the outcome of the November election.

Question #22Are we keeping the Library Cottage if a District is formed?
Answer: Yes, the cottage belongs to Library employees.

There was general agreement about the need to research how other Libraries converted to being a District and the impact on unions, taxes, employees, etc. A possible trip to the Employment Relations Board in Salem to ask questions was suggested.

Respectfully submitted by Grant Swanson 8/9/2010

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