Bonneville Library District board divided on Idaho Falls service agreement
- Feb 22, 2022
There was little agreement Tuesday on the best path forward with the city of Idaho Falls’ service contract with the Bonneville County Library District. The only consensus from district board trustees and community members is nobody wants to lose library services provided by the city on Oct. 1.
That is what’s currently at stake if the district is unable to renew its contract with the city, resulting in the expiration of all library cards for county residents and the closure of the library locations in Swan Valley and Iona.
“I have never wanted to get rid of services with the city, not one … I have never heard anybody on this board say that they’d like to remove services. To the contrary, the reason that we are serving here is to ensure that our district has library services,” said board trustee Jennifer Crofts during the district’s Tuesday board meeting.
Upward of 30 people attended the Bonneville County Library District’s board meeting to hear the board’s discussion about the service agreement, nearly filling the meeting room in the Idaho Falls Public Library.
After approximately three hours, board members did not come to a decision because of several uncertainties and disagreements board members have on the best way to negotiate with the city.
The Post Register reported Sunday the city library board proposed a new agreement which requires an increase of nearly $40 to county residents’ flat tax they pay for library service. County residents currently pay $61.50 for library services through an annual flat tax and the new proposal would increase the tax to $100. Idaho Falls residents pay for library services through property taxes.
The city library board proposed this change based on library circulation data splits of city and county residents. According to the library’s data, county residents accounted for 42% of all items checked out from the library while city residents accounted for 53% of all items checked out during the past fiscal year.
City library board members feel that city taxpayers have been subsidizing costs for county residents’ use of the library. Idaho Falls Library board trustee Rod Rapp earlier told the Post Register the proposal would bring parity between the two parties and how much each is expending to fund the library.
The city currently pays 65% of the library’s budget and the county pays 31.57%. The remaining balance is covered by nonresident library cards, which cost $120. The city’s proposal raises the county’s share of library expenses to match circulation data from the past year and effectively raises the county’s total expense from $1.1 million to $1.8 million. Idaho Falls has budgeted $2.3 million for the library.
The majority of Bonneville Library District board members feel the city’s proposal is not fair to county residents. Rebecca Blackson, board member and the district’s liaison on the Idaho Falls library board, motioned to agree to the city’s proposal, but the motion did not get a second from any other board member.
Several options were presented Tuesday and the board heard public comments from several people in attendance. Opinions varied as some people were OK with paying $100 as the flat tax and others wanted the board to try to merge with the city as one library district.
One resident, Carla Campbell, said she was not in favor of the city increasing the tax to $100 since she doesn’t use the library and hasn’t checked out a book in more than a decade.
“If I want to read a book, I buy it. If I need to do research, I do it on my computer at home. I’m not really a user and I know there are an awful lot of people like me,” Campbell said. “I pay my $60 fee every year and consider it a friend of the library donation … I feel when that number goes to $100 in one year, that’s a breaking point for me.”
There was discussion about the city of Ammon’s role in helping create an Ammon library branch after Blackson mentioned how she requested the Ammon council’s help and councilmembers denied her request. Ammon City Councilman Scott Wessel spoke during public comment and said he believes libraries should be locally controlled. He said the city has entered a contract to expand city buildings and its discussions have included a library.
“We didn’t turn down a library. We just didn’t see how we could afford a 7,000-square-foot building (to house a library),” Wessel said.
Wessel said the Iona library is about 1,000 square feet and Ammon would be willing to build a bigger library than that, which he believes residents would support.
The board is considering counteroffering the city to either attempt to merge library districts, negotiating for a lower flat tax than $100 while raising from the current rate of $61.50 or taking a short-term contract to keep library services available until the county district is ready to start its own library district. The board was also divided how much they would offer the city for a lower flat tax, ranging from a 5% increase from the current tax to a 40% increase.
Board members who spoke against the city’s proposal felt circulation was an unfair metric to base the new contract off of. Crofts said the board consulted with an attorney who said circulation should not be used as the only metric for an agreement. She said their attorney spoke with Randy Fife, attorney for the city of Idaho Falls, who came to a similar consensus. Fife wrote to the attorney that his legal advice to the board was any fee agreed to should reflect reasonable and justifiable considerations to avoid any entity subsidizing the other, Crofts said.
Rapp told the Post Register on Friday the two parties agreed to using circulation as the metric to move toward parity when they agreed to a contract three years ago. Board trustee Karen Harris disputed that and read from the contract which included other factors for the next contract.
“Never does it say we would only do usage,” Harris said.
Board trustee Jenni Cragun also noted the city took circulation data during the peak of the pandemic, where library usage across the country went up. She said it wasn’t fair to base the contract off data from a COVID year.
Blackson said she felt circulation was a good metric use because it’s measurable and directly tied to the costs of operating a library.
“It frustrates me that (this board) doesn’t want to pay for what they’re using,” Blackson said.
The board’s next meeting is at 11 a.m., March 18 at the library. Board members are working to gather more information by then in order to make a counteroffer.