Three tax hikes? County considers library district vote, too

Three tax hikes? County considers library district vote, too »Play Video
Multnomah County Library.

PORTLAND, Ore. – This fall Portland area voters will be asked to approve at least two tax measures, but later this week Multnomah County commissioners will decide if they will ask voters to pass a library district as well.

Portland voters will consider proposals to pay for schools and the arts, and the library district could tack on another tax increase.

The library tax district would be a permanent, dedicated funding source for Multnomah County libraries instead of the current system of temporary levies that have to be renewed by voters every few years, leaving the library susceptible to huge budget cuts.

Library boosters helped push the last levy to a victory in May with 84 percent of voters agreeing to renew the library levy. Now those active supporters are trying to convince county commissioners to go after the library tax district.

If voters say yes, property owners will pay more – an extra $33 in taxes for every $100,000 in property value.

For the owner of a $200,000 home in Portland, it will cost an extra $66 in taxes each year. That same homeowner would also pay an extra $220 a year in taxes if a Portland Public Schools bond is approved. Then there's the arts income tax that would cost those who work in Portland another $35 a year. That's a total of $321 in new annual taxes.

People who depend on the library argue the investment is worth the cost.

"A library is not just another building, it is not just another service or program, it is the center of the community," said Katie Lane, the chair of the library advisory board.

Libraries provide books, movies, music and many more services to folks who need help finding a job or just checking email. But seniors on fixed incomes and struggling families might not be willing to pay the higher taxes especially considering the other tax requests on the November ballot.

Voter Reaction

Some voters have no interest in raising taxes this year or any other but many more are willing to approve at least one tax hike. And most of them fall into one of three categories.

The first is the "yes-yes" voter like parent Tabitha Rhodes.

"I support all of it," she said.

Rhodes sees her four-year-old son, Marshall, benefiting from each of the three tax hikes so she's willing to pay.

"I feel like a small increase in taxes that helps the future of our children is important. We support the arts, we support the schools, we support the libraries, it's all really important," she said.

The second group is the "yes-maybe" voter. They are ready to support one or even two tax increases but are unsure about all three.

"I would vote for the libraries and for the schools. I'd think about the arts," said Eleanor Krause.

Several voters expressed that uncertainty about the arts income tax.

"I'm more concerned about schools and the library," said Sheila Golfman. "I don't know enough about the arts thing."

Arts backers should be glad those voters haven't made up their mind unlike the third group: the "yes-no" voter.

"I think that's a tough bite to take," Britt Stoller said about the possibility of three new taxes.

Stoller and her 10-year-old son, Jacob, prioritize school buildings and libraries.

"The library is just great because it provides so much for everybody, adults and kids," Jacob said.

Jacob can't vote, but his mother can and she's not willing to say yes to three tax hikes.

"I think the arts are important, but for me, personally, I've got to pick and choose right now," she said.

KATU News reached out by phone and email to the director of the Creative Advocacy Network, the main proponent of the arts tax, for her reaction to what voters said. It didn't hear back from her.

The arts income tax is also being challenged in court by opponents who argue it's unconstitutional.