City News

Mayor Chris Hoy proposes stopgap to avoid Salem library cuts this year

Salem Mayor Chris Hoy plans to put forward a motion that would stave off cuts to the city-funded library for a year, preserving six full-time jobs and preventing the closure of the library’s West Salem Branch.

The motion calls for the city to use money from the city’s transient occupancy tax, a tax added to hotel and motel stays, to fund about $1.2 million in the library’s budget. The money would pay for three librarians, three library assistants and two other vacant jobs slated for cuts.

“This isn’t a long term solution, but it’s a one time fix while we’re working on developing a longer term plan,” he told Salem Reporter on Tuesday. “We can’t have more cuts to our library, that’s just the bottom line, because it’s already gone through too many cuts.”

Hoy will make the motion at Wednesday’s budget committee meeting. Salemites have already submitted over 75 written public comments in favor of preserving the library as of Tuesday afternoon, and a rally to support the library is planned for 5:30 p.m. ahead of the meeting.

The city is facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit which it plans to address with a combination of cuts and by seeking new ways to bring money into the city. City Manager Keith Stahley’s budgeting process prioritized police, fire and public safety ahead of the library, parks and recreation and community services.

During the meeting, Stahley plans to present his proposed budget, with a list of cuts including  7.25 positions at the library totaling $1.2 million, which would close the West Salem branch of the library and further cut the main branch’s hours and services. The cuts include eliminating 15 on-call employees who fill in when regular library workers are unavailable, according to Deputy City Manager Scott Archer.

In anticipation of the budget cuts, in January the main branch of the library closed on Sundays, cut evening hours and reduced opening hours at the West Salem branch from five days a week to two. In February, the city council voted to cut 33 vacant city jobs from the budget, including seven library positions which had not been filled in anticipation of cuts.

The proposed budget also includes $400,000 in service reductions to Center 50+, $700,000 less spent on park operations, $400,000 cuts to recreation programs, and cutting $410,000 that pays for the city’s warming shelters and Safe Parking program.

Under Hoy’s proposal, the city would use money saved in Salem’s Cultural and Tourism Fund to cover the gap in library operations for the next year. The fund collects money from Salem’s hotel tax.

City law requires money from the tax to be used for specific purposes, including improvements to, or operation of, major tourist attractions or cultural facilities and activities that promote tourism.

Hoy said the city’s library qualifies.

“It only can be used on certain things, and this is one of them,” Hoy said.

Former State Librarian Jim Scheppke, who recently co-founded an organization, “Fund Our Libraries,” to raise awareness about the library’s funding issues, said the motion is a temporary fix.

“We’re still going to rally and do our thing,” Scheppke said. “Even if the mayor makes that motion, he still has to get the votes. So we’ve got to keep the pressure on.”

Scheppke said if the motion passes, he’ll breathe easier for the upcoming fiscal year but the focus will now be on the city’s Revenue task force, which is seeking additional sustainable funding sources for the city.

He said he wants to see a solid recommendation to city council on a solution for the library. Scheppke said he’s not presenting anything in particular, but pointed to local option levies and library districts that other Oregon cities use to sustain their library.

“It’s not anything mysterious, what can be done. It has been done,” he said. He said he hopes the task force’s upcoming polling will weigh the public’s interest in library-specific funding options.

The budget committee meets Wednesday, April 17, at 6 p.m in the council chambers, 555 Liberty St. S.E. The meeting will be available to watch online, on the Capital Community Media YouTube page.

Each meeting includes time for public testimony, which is limited to three minutes per person. Groups can select a spokesperson to speak for up to five minutes. Testimony can be given live during the meeting, in person or remotely. Those who want to speak can sign up between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. the day of the meeting.

Written testimony can be emailed to [email protected] before 3 p.m. the day of the meeting, along with a note saying the comment is for the record. 

“Our Librarians deserve to know the Budget Committee supports the vital work they do every day and our community deserves to know library services will not be eroded further,” Hoy wrote in his motion.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include information about a Wednesday rally planned in support of the library.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.