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Agreement finally settles loose ends from 2016 lawsuit in which city sued for $1.5M

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - On Nov. 19, Gladstone library employees Bonnie Espe (from left) Stephanie Sullivan, Dillon Zoesch, Susannah Carver and Heather Hoffmann were recognized as they began their transition to becoming county employees. Elected officials from both Gladstone and Clackamas County unanimously approved intergovernmental agreements last week to work out the details of constructing libraries in the city and unincorporated community of Oak Lodge.

In 2017, a recall election and settlement agreement ended Gladstone's 2016 lawsuit against the county for $1.5 million. But the two-page settlement left a lot of holes in how to accomplish a two-branch solution with a smaller library in Gladstone and a larger library for unincorporated areas to the north.

Adding to the library crisis for city and county officials were timeline delays and estimated cost overruns. Under the terms of this month's agreement, however, tax rates will not have to go up for the public, as building construction funds come from existing library district reserves and future library district revenues.

Gladstone voters decided in a May 2018 election to rescind a city ban on using local money for library construction. The vote committed city officials to contributing $200,000 annually to library services out of the Gladstone general fund, with an approximately 3% yearly increase tied to increasing property tax revenue over the next 20 years.

City Administrator Jacque Betz said that the $1.8 million necessary for Gladstone's library estimated in 2017 has ballooned to about $3 million due to escalating construction costs across the Pacific Northwest. She told citizens that the county officials will nevertheless keep promises made to Gladstone voters for a 6,000-square-foot library at the current City Hall location on Portland Avenue.

"They are fully committed to funding that gap, and we heard that from the county administrator, and we heard that from the county commissioners," Betz said.

City councilors in Gladstone were concerned that library construction projects wouldn't start until 2022, to be completed in 2023. Mayor Tammy Stempel felt better about the delays in construction after county officials agreed to "decouple" the Oak Lodge Library construction process from the city's construction if the county doesn't select a location for the Oak Lodge Library by July 30, 2020, so that construction of the city's library is not unreasonably delayed.

"My biggest headache over this one was the timeline," Stempel said. "I've had many, many conversations over the past couple weeks, and I'm very confident that timeline will be moved up."

In preparation for construction of Gladstone's library, county officials are planning an environmental assessment of the current City Hall property. A county engineer will be coming the first week of December to determine the best locations for drilling and is expected to return the second week of December to drill cylindrical samples of earth looking for a tank and/or contaminated dirt.

Betz said she won't be surprised if the engineer finds out the soil is contaminated, just like at the new City Hall/police station site a few blocks away on Portland Avenue. After the agreement was approved Nov. 12, Betz said citizens have been "thrilled to have reached this important milestone" in the project.

Although the county has been providing temporary library management services to the city since July 2018, Gladstone library employees will become county employees starting Dec. 1. The county will continue running the Gladstone library out of its old location, a property that will remain in city ownership after the library moves across the street.

Starting in January, county officials plan to operate both libraries using a "one library, two building" model to maximize efficiency, achieve economies of scale and provide high-quality, consistent library services to Gladstone and Oak Lodge residents. 

"We've been working for more than a year to prepare for this transition," said Laura Zentner, the county's director of business and community services. "We're delighted to welcome Gladstone Library staff to the Clackamas County family, and are looking forward to working closely with both communities to plan and build new, modern libraries."  

County officials are still considering whether or not to locate the Oak Lodge Library at the shuttered Concord Elementary site purchased from the school district in March 2018.

County and city officials have pledged to work closely with two community task forces and a team of architectural consultants to "define community values, evaluate community needs and create designs" for modern library facilities. 

Learn more about the construction projects at clackamas.us/communityproject.


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