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Falls City may ask voters to OK levy to keep Wagner open

The city of Falls City voted to close Wagner Community Library effective June 30, 2018, but the decision can be reversed.

Photo by Jolene Guzman.
The city of Falls City voted to close Wagner Community Library effective June 30, 2018, but the decision can be reversed.

FALLS CITY — Survey results asking if Falls City residents would pay to keep the Wagner Community Library open were encouraging enough that the Falls City City Council is researching a November levy.

Falls City School District Superintendent Jack Thompson reviewed the survey results Thursday during a joint district and city work session on the library.

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Jack Thompson

He said 68 people completed the survey, and 74 percent said they would be willing to pay at least $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, with some saying they would pay more.

Thompson added, based on responses, that the survey captured a variety of demographics within the community.

“When you look at where the surveys are coming from, the community we’ve got, how many registered voters we’ve got, I think this is a pretty significant survey,” Thompson said. “This is not parents of children who are specifically answering these questions. I think we have a very broad spectrum of the community who are answering these questions.”

Mayor Terry Ungricht said the city has about 400 voters. In the May 2017 election, there were 919 registered voters in the Falls City precinct, which includes the area surrounding Falls City.

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Terry Ungricht

If a levy is placed on the ballot, only voters within city limits, not the Falls City School District boundary, would vote on it. The school district already has a levy on the books.

“We wouldn’t be able to have an additional operating levy,” Thompson said.

Ungricht said keeping the library doors open is costing Wagner Trust Fund about $46,000 per year. To raise $50,000, the levy would need to charge about $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value. The fund has enough money to operate the district through the end of 2018.

Thompson said the district will continue to support the library by providing the building and for its maintenance. He noted that the district reserves the right to take over that space only if enrollment grows to the point it’s needed for instruction.

“Every indication that I’ve had from the board members would be that it would be allowed to continue in that space,” Thompson said. “It works well. We have not had any issues. It been a good relationship with the city and with the library.”

Ungricht said he’s concerned the city may have to ask residents for financial support for other needs, namely firefighting equipment.

He said the fire department has been applying for grants to replace the breathing units firefighters are required to have to battle fires from inside buildings.

“They are into their seventh run, and we have not received the award. My best bet is we are not going to get that,” Ungricht said. “In two years, we will no longer be able to fight structure fires. We will only be able to be outside and water them down. We won’t be able to go in.”

The cost to replace the units is $72,000.

“I think the council really needs to think about strategy,” he said. “It just concerns me about throwing a lot of requests onto a ballot.”

Ungricht said he will get information on requirements to put a levy on the ballot, precisely how much will be needed to keep the library open, and get an update on the fire department’s needs, and bring the updates at the July 13 council meeting.

Councilors Cliff Lauder and Dennis Sickles said the council should put the requests to voters and let them decide.

“Saying, well as a city we’re not going to put it on there because we feel like you are going to fail it. That’s not fair,” Sickles said. “I really think we need to let the people say yes or no.”

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