A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Carnegie Library looks safe in budget crunch

Written September 24th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

The downtown Carnegie Library on the evening of Sept. 5. Like the main library, it is closed until further notice.

When and if Albany’s public libraries reopen after the corona crisis, the downtown Carnegie branch stands a good chance of staying in operation despite the city’s budget problems, judging by what candidates in the Nov. 3 council election say.

I asked all nine candidates — seven for three council seats and two for mayor — whether the downtown branch should be closed in order to cut costs.

“No,” said seven of the nine, though in more words than that.

It should stay open, said Mayor Sharon Konopa, perhaps supported with a new utility fee she advocates for parks and libraries. She also wants to delay for two years any water and sewer pipe replacements, and fee increases normally going for that would then be available to support city programs..

“No, I cannot support closing the Carnegie Library,” said Councilman Alex Johnson II, challenging Konopa for the mayor’s post. The savings would have no significant impact on the budget, he added. “More importantly, closing it would eliminate a beloved historic asset from downtown which would change the ‘hometown feel’ for residents of the area.”

In Ward 1, council candidates Keith Kolkow and Sean Knowles are against closing it, citing its minimal cost (Kolkow says it’s $215,000 a year) versus its benefits to the public. The third candidate, Matilda Novak, says she’s “loath to see it closed,” but she’d like to examine how much it was used before Covid. “If it’s not being used when things are normal, that’s a consideration.”

In Ward 2, candidates Ray Kopczynski and Amanda Dant both oppose closing the branch, also citing the relatively small savings versus the effect on the public.

In Ward 3, candidate Marilyn Smith said, “No, the cost of operating is minimal. The history and mental health value of this venerable institution outweigh those savings.”  But she would look into whether the building could be shared with an “appropriate paying tenant.”

Her opponent in Ward 3, Jessica Brenneman, did not say yes or no. “There is talk of merging other businesses in it,” she wrote in part, “which I’m always up for discussion on everything.”

I made a mistake in not asking candidates to limit their answers to a certain number of words. Their complete replies would take all night to write up, and nearly as long to read. Which is why their answers here are mostly summarized.

Office holders can change their minds once they face actual issues rather than a questionnaire. But for now, it looks like the Carnegie Library is safe. Only one of next year’s council members, Bessie Johnson, has called for it to be closed. (hh)

8 responses to “Carnegie Library looks safe in budget crunch”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Yep, small game hunting.

    If the Mayor & City Council (or future councilors) are hunting big game, look first at the number of city employees and their salaries & benefits.

    About 75-80% of the General Fund is spent on “Personnel.” The General Fund is the area of city spending over which City Council has the most control.

    “Personnel” costs are a target rich environment.

    But most of Albany’s politicians (especially the progressives) are loath to make personnel cuts. It’s easier and less painful to impose regressive fees that punish lower income Albany residents disproportionally. These folks aren’t unionized and many are not politically active.

    So it’s a no brainer from a politician’s perspective. Ignore the elephant in the room. Aim instead at those on the bottom half of the hierarchical structure. It’s the Albany way.

    • Steven Reynolds says:

      This is in bad taste Gordon, these are people, our fellow residents that are relying on these jobs for survival, there is no joy in any of this. It’s unfortunate that we went off track, Wes warned us for years to plan for something like this, unfortunately we have had some leadership teams that did not heed that warning and we as a community are now faced with some terrible decisions. Some of this is completely out of our control, weakening the money supply with large amounts of liquidity that doesn’t represent goods and services just puts us in a position of going along for the ride and dealing with the ramifications. 40% proposed increases in water rates, obviously not an act of working from a position of strength or economic vitality but of a position of desperation. To me the whole idea of vote for me and I’ll give you something for nothing sounds wonderful or even the idea of let your neighbor pay for it, they can afford it sounds good to a lot of people, or in our case money is cheap let’s borrow and get everything done that we want to get done. When you don’t listen to someone like Wes that has years of experience and has seen many of these cycles, this is how things end up. This is the cards we have to play, but Gordon please don’t act like you’re getting some type of joy out of this, this is awful.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        Joy? Completely false. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

        It’s more like “pick your poison.” Re-structure and scale local government to available revenues (now and looking forward), or gouge Albany residents with more fees now.

        • Steven Reynolds says:

          “hunting big game”? Come on Gordon….

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            A euphemism for large, unpleasant budget cuts that must happen and are politically painful.

            If you still see “joy” here, well, that is your delusion. Nothing I say will convince you otherwise.

  2. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “40% proposed increases in water rates, obviously not an act of working from a position of strength or economic vitality but of a position of desperation.”

    I strongly disagree here… Every year, council gets a 5-year forward-look at water rates — and the proposed annual increases, “flat,” or decreases (yes, there have been some over the years) in rates to pay for the infrastructure used to deliver you clean water. Do you have a better way to do it?

    • Steven Reynolds says:

      I wasn’t going to mention the yearly increases, figured they were just a cost of doing business and we would have to cover them someway, I was just referring to adding 40% to a current $100 bill with the utility tax.

  3. Bill Kapaun says:

    How much does the city “contribute” to PERS each year?
    We all know where that money comes from.

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