By VICKI URBANIK
Two local state legislators aren’t exactly thrilled about the
renewed effort to consolidate libraries.
Both State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-3rd, and State Senator Karen
Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, gave a lukewarm reaction to the proposed legislation
discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the Westchester Public Library Board. The
proposal would require that counties form planning committees to prepare a
plan for library services; even if the committees recommend keeping separate
library systems, the Indiana State Library could overrule that
Brown said he would need to get more facts about the bill’s
impacts, but that he tends to take a cautious approach toward any of the
local government consolidation proposals pending.
He noted that just last year, the state required a
consolidation of most township assessor posts with the county offices. It’s
too early to know if the assessor consolidation has worked well, if it
resulted in significant tax savings, and if it has been practical, he said.
“I think the same thing may be true for libraries,” he said.
Brown said he can’t say for certain that he would vote
against the proposed library legislation, but said he would be hesitant to
vote for it unless there is “compelling information” that it would benefit
taxpayers without inconveniencing people or reducing their level of service.
“I think we need to take a wait and see position,” he said.
Similarly, Brown said he is skeptical of the other
consolidation proposals pending, such as the move to replace the three
county commissioners in each county with just a single elected executive who
would have broad authority over other departments. He said that for larger
counties -- such as Lake County, which has more than 400,000 people -- a
single executive to manage county government would be impractical.
Tallian takes a similar stand. Like Brown, she said she would
need more information about the library proposal, but that in general, she
feels that a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t always work.
“In general, I think library consolidation is a local issue,”
Tallian noted that Indiana is facing a steep budget deficit
and that Gov. Mitch Daniels wants to push his agenda, which includes smaller
address that spending gap. But Tallian said that reducing government
sometimes doesn’t improve efficiency. “That doesn’t
always work, especially in some smaller places,” she said.
She also said it appears that Porter County’s two library
systems -- WPL and the county system -- appear to be functioning well as
they are. “So let’s mess with something else,” she said.
When asked her views about the provision that would allow the
state to overrule the county board’s recommendation, Tallian said: “This is
one more example of the state having power over everything.”
The library bill as of this morning was not yet posted