OPINION: Washougal library supporters shouldn’t let fears over failed Camas bond hold them back

When news broke in April 2019 that Washougal residents Wes and Diane Hickey had donated a prime piece of downtown Washougal real estate to the future Washougal library, local library lovers rejoiced.

Terri London, event coordinator for the Dinner in White on the Columbia Committee, the main fundraiser for the new library building efforts, called the Hickeys’ donation “great news for the community.”

And Roy DeRousie, president of the Friends of the Washougal Library, called the property — located at the intersection of Main Street and Durgan Street — “the best site we could have gotten.”

Flash forward nearly one year and fundraising efforts to build a library big enough to accommodate Washougal’s burgeoning population seem to have stalled and the Hickeys’ property donation is still caught up in red tape.

DeRousie recently told the Post-Record he wishes he knew when the property donation might be completed, setting the stage for a greater fundraising push and grant-writing efforts.

“Lawyers are working through that process right now,” DeRousie said. “They have to make sure that everything with the donation of the property is done properly, and that the property will work for us. It takes a long time.”

Pressing pause on fundraising for the library is understandable considering the time-consuming permitting process required for these types of land donations.

What is concerning, however, is the fact that some library supporters seem fearful of ever asking voters to help build and maintain the new library.

DeRousie pointed to the city of Camas’ failed community-aquatics center bond, calling it “a wake-up call for a lot of people,” and saying his group didn’t want to have something like that happen if they went to voters for taxpayer support to build the new library.

There are many reasons why the Camas bond measure failed — it was too expensive; city council members rushed to put the issue on the ballot; its opponents had money coming in from outside, private fitness clubs; its backers failed to show a true and immediate need for the community-aquatics center; and voters had a lot of misleading information coming at them through social media sites — but its defeat doesn’t necessarily mean local voters aren’t willing to ever fund a public proposition ever again.

In fact, Camas-Washougal voters are known for their support of school district projects that directly benefit local students and educators, so it stands to reason that they might be interested in helping to fund a public library that would directly benefit Washougal families and children.

The research show taxpayers in this country tend to support their public libraries, especially if the bond measure presented to them is to renovate or replace older libraries, which is the case in Washougal — where a 2013 study shows the community has well outgrown its 2,400-square-foot library on “C” Street and needs a building four to five times that size.

According to an article published in the Nov. 11, 2019 Library Journal, the majority of the 50 public library funding measures on November 2019 general ballots throughout the nation passed.

Some of the 2019 support for libraries showed voters are more willing to kick in their own money if they can see fundraising efforts have also brought in private donations.

Voters in Flint, Michigan, for instance, passed that city’s $12.6 million library bond after private donations brought in half of the estimated $28 million needed to completely renovate that city’s public library.

If library backers can show Washougal voters the value of building a new library and point toward the $1.6 million they’ve already collected, they should be in a good position to pass a local bond measure to build the new library and a local operations and maintenance levy to fund daily library operations.

It would be a shame for the entire Camas-Washougal community if fears over the 2019 downfall of the community-aquatics center prevented other public projects, such as the much-needed Washougal library, from ever seeing the light of day.

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