Cornelius calls on Washington County for fair library funding
Cornelius is calling on Washington County to adjust funding for libraries to be more equitable.
Cornelius Public Library director Karen Hill commissioned a report by Paul Brandon, a library volunteer and retired professor who specialized in educational program evaluations at the University of Hawaii for 40 years, that found Cornelius — where a majority of the population identifies as Latino or Hispanic — receives $34 per capita in funding from the county, compared to $77 per capita for the West Slope Community Library, the coverage area of which is 8% Hispanic.
With more money from Washington County, Hill said she would hire more staff to spread the word about laptops, internet hotspots, printing and other free services.
"The most expensive thing is staffing. We have temporarily hired a librarian to help us with outreach. We try to go to schools and parks and senior living places to promote our services and offer some services off-site to people who can't make it in," Hill said. "When the (Department of Motor Vehicles) and workforce benefits and school and everything goes online, our community doesn't have the capacity to afford laptops and broadband, so that's why we stayed open."
Hill added the library relies on donations for its laptops.
Funding for Washington County libraries is sourced from a web of cities, nonprofits and taxes.
The Washington County Cooperative Library Services collects public funds from the county general fund as well as a tax levy to distribute to 13 library sites, which are operated by either cities, as in Cornelius, or nonprofits (in Aloha, Cedar Mill and Garden Home).
The West Slope Community Library in unincorporated Washington County is the exception and is operated directly by the county.
While the majority of their funding comes from WCCLS, city libraries receive a smaller share of their budget from the county compared to the nonprofits and West Slope. Libraries operated by nonprofits receive around 90% of their funding from WCCLS, while all of West Slope's funding comes from the county.
In fiscal year 2020, the Cornelius Library, which has nine full-time employees, received $564,000 or 59% of its funding from the WCCLS, while Forest Grove received $900,000 or 72%.
By way of comparison, in Washington County's two largest cities, the Beaverton City Library received $6 million or 52%, and the Hillsboro Public Library received $5.5 million or 47%.
WCCLS manager Lisa Tattersall said 59% of roughly $40 million in revenue comes from the county commission, while 41% is from a local tax levy that goes before voters every five years — most recently in May 2020, when voters approved a measure that maintained, without increasing, the previous tax rate.
To alter the current funding landscape, Tattersall said libraries will likely have to wait until the next tax levy vote in 2026. Then new funds could be distributed based on need.
"We made a commitment to voters to maintain current levels of library service, so when your pie isn't getting any bigger, it's hard to give somebody a bigger piece of pie unless you make another piece of pie smaller," Tattersall said. "We could make recommendations to look at increased rate and allow us to make some great movements of the needle in terms of adjusting how we fund libraries. We really need to have a conversation as a co-op to figure out what is fair when each local jurisdiction is able to put whatever they decide into their library."
Instead of waiting five years for a vote, Hill and Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake, who is also the former mayor of Beaverton, want the WCCLS to dip into its contingency fund, which currently contains about $13 million. Tattersall said that fund accounts for about four months worth of operating costs, which increase every year, and the organization tells vendors it will give a 60-day notice if it ever needs to cut funding.
"Should we really wait five years? Can we talk about equity as a priority and then not deal with this?" Drake said. "That study screamed to me that something needs to be done."
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