The author of a ballot proposal that would remove community funding for Ketchikan’s library doubts the measure will pass this October. John Harrington, a former member of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, said he submitted the initiative petition this summer on behalf of a group of parents who object to LGBTQ content in the Ketchikan Public Library.
Harrington and a library supporter discussed the ballot initiative during a KRBD forum Thursday.
Proposal 2 would eliminate a $0.7 million property tax on homes and businesses outside of Ketchikan and Saxman city limits, accounting for about 40% of the Ketchikan Public Library’s annual budget. If the roughly $500,000 annual cut goes through, Ketchikan’s library director says she would be forced to cut nearly all programs, cut services and lay off half her staff. Residents residing outside the city limits are not eligible for a library card.
The tax costs the owner of a $350,000 home about $250 a year.
The author of the election proposal, John Harrington, said during a forum on KRBD that he expected voters to reject it.
“I doubt it will happen,” Harrington said.
But if it does, Harrington said he’s confident city or county officials would find a way to fill the hole in the library’s budget before the measure goes into effect in 2024.
“I think there is no doubt that the community assembly would take action to fund this library,” he said.
Harrington declined to say how he expects Ketchikan County to offset the budget cut. The former Borough Assembly member said he could think of “two or three ways” the Assembly could replace funding. But he refused to share them when asked for details.
County Mayor Rodney Dial previously suggested that the county could replace the half-million annual funding with its share of state cruise line poll taxes.
Kathy Bolling, a rural Ketchikan resident and library supporter, said that’s unlikely because state taxes could only be spent on port facilities, port infrastructure or amenities for cruise tourists.
“Juneau was taken to court over a whale sculpture, so I don’t know how we can say, ‘Gee, you know what, we don’t want to pay for library programming, so let’s let the Ohio guys do it,'” she said.
Bolling argued against Proposition 2 at the forum. She said it’s unrealistic to assume the funding cut would be somehow met as the city and county wrestle with budget problems in the wake of the pandemic.
“I just think that we’re not responsible, and we’re not being realistic, if that little piece of property tax on our county lots goes away, that money just shows up,” she said. “Because even if there’s a will, we’re already thin.”
Harrington said the move is in response to LGBTQ content targeting young children. He said the library’s decision to host a story hour featuring a drag queen “had an impact” on the push for the ballot proposal – Harrington presented the ballot measure to the congregation just three days after the reading – but he said the campaign was defunding of Ketchikan’s library started in earnest last winter. He said a group of parents contacted him about an exhibit at the library that touched on LGBTQ issues.
“The material that has to do with gender identity and sexual identity and that stuff, the parents just didn’t think it was appropriate to target the kids with that material and they wanted to do something about it,” he said.
Harrington declined to say which titles or materials the parents found offensive, or to offer any other details about the exhibition.
“I can’t tell you anything about that. I did not see it. I wasn’t there,” he said. “I was contacted shortly after and said, ‘John, you have to help us.'”
He said the library should have consulted the Concerned Parents Group when considering how to present its materials.
“People shouldn’t be excluded because they feel like people aren’t listening to them,” he said. “You don’t negotiate with them about their concerns.”
The Ketchikan library director said during the drag queen controversy that the Pride month reading and other programs were an attempt to encourage inclusivity.
Bolling, the library’s supporter, said it’s important for libraries to contain and display materials on a variety of subjects.
“If a vegan comes into the library and the library has a session on how to dress your mountain goat in the field, are they being denied their rights? Shouldn’t they feel welcome?” she said. “Or should they just recognize that there are people who care?”
She said a process is already in place to challenge specific books in the library that users find offensive, and that parents who visit the library with their children can keep them away from books or events that they find inappropriate .
She said a core task of libraries is to present a wide range of perspectives.
“There’s a saying that a library should have something that offends everyone, there should be something in it that someone isn’t going to like,” she said. “And so we can go in and get what we want to read. That is the beauty and gift of libraries.”
The proposal will go before Ketchikan Gateway Borough constituents outside of Ketchikan and Saxman city limits on October 4.
You can listen to the entire forum here or watch the video below on Facebook.