Clackamas County commissioners seek to resolve a controversy about the fate of library services in the city of Gladstone and a larger unincorporated community nearby.

Commissioners moved Tuesday (Feb. 23) for a joint advisory committee, whose members would be drawn proportionally from Gladstone and Oak Grove, to come to terms within six months.

Until then, the commissioners say they will not act on a request by Gladstone last week to draw $2.6 million from the county to help furnish a library being planned in the current Gladstone City Hall.

On the other hand — after hearing from about 20 mostly irate Oak Grove residents for an hour on Feb. 18 — the commissioners say they still intend to get the county out of operating libraries and turn that function over to cities.

The Oak Lodge library is on McLoughlin Boulevard in Oak Grove.

“We want to form a proportionally representative committee, with the two local advisory committees from Oak Lodge and Gladstone, to discuss outstanding issues and reach agreement on library construction,” Chairman John Ludlow said last week.

“We have an intergovernmental agreement with Gladstone, a contract. We will monitor the situation closely. We are committed to reaching a collaborative solution.”

The vote was 5-0.

When voters created a county library district in 2008, the measure also led to a shutdown of the three libraries run directly by the county and phased out county supplemental aid to city libraries by 2014. Property taxes levied by the district go to libraries whose advisory boards have city and county representation.

The Gladstone-Oak Grove situation is the sole unresolved matter.

“This is one area that has not been able to seem to move this forward,” Commissioner Martha Schrader said.

A long history

In 2012, Gladstone voters rejected a $10 million bond to build a 19,000-square-foot library on Webster Road. The city then returned to the county $1.5 million it had not already spent. A previous Gladstone City Council and city administrator spent $1.2 million on library plans for the Webster Road library, a project that is no longer on the table.

In 2014, city voters approved a $6.4 million bond to build a smaller library, projected at 13,000 to 16,000 square feet; it is slated to be built on the bottom two floors of a replacement three-story Gladstone City Hall.

At a City Council meeting on Monday (Feb. 22) city councilors unanimously approved a letter formally requesting $2.6 million from the county — $875,000 of which would be county library district funds to Oak Lodge redirected help furnish a new library. A 2014 opinion from the county counsel advises commissioners that such money cannot be used for construction.

According to estimates, two-thirds of projected library users would come from outside Gladstone, which has about 12,000 residents. The Oak Lodge service area has about 30,000.

County commissioners heard from nearly two dozen Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge residents, who complained that the proposed library is too small and should be larger and built closer to them, as proposed in 2012, or a library should be built — or the existing one maintained — in their community.

“I get a lot of services out of that library,” Shirley Soderberg said. “I think it’s really, really discouraging that the people of Oak Grove did not get any kind of voice or any type of communication as to whether they wanted this to happen or not. So I am disappointed. I would urge you not to close the Oak Lodge library.”

Doug Jones, a 20-year employee of the county who also lives in Oak Grove, said he has seen other communities make the transition to libraries that serve residents of cities and unincorporated communities.

“I hope the residents of Gladstone get a new library, I really do,” Jones said. “Every community deserves one and they are long overdue themselves. But they have demonstrated they are interested in a library just for their community. The size of the library and the location we are talking about (in Gladstone) are not going to be adequate to service the community I live in.”

Some of the commissioners said that one solution could be to keep open the current Oak Lodge library as a satellite of a new Gladstone library or the Milwaukie library — but that option would be up to the proposed joint advisory group to consider.

Kevin Johnson of Gladstone offered a differing perspective.

He said Gladstone city voters in 2012 rejected a larger library for which they would have borne most of the construction costs — not residents outside the city — but would be a minority of its projected users.

“The fact is that many will never be happy, no matter what, if their (Oak Lodge) library closes,” Johnson said.

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