Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Township libraries under attack again?

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They knew it was coming, and now it’s here.

Westchester Public Library Board members got their first look Thursday at draft legislation that’s likely headed to the Indiana General Assembly, a bill WPL officials fear will bring them one step closer to mandated consolidation with the Porter County Library System, which neither wants.

The draft bill is proposed by the Indiana State Library and the Indiana Library Federation. It’s in response to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ call to streamline local government and is based on a library-consolidation recommendation made by last year’s Kernan/Shepard blue-ribbon state study committee.

At that time WPL officials were vocal in their opposition to a forced library merger.

According to WPL director Phil Baugher last night, the draft bill mandates creation of individual county planning committees to prepare a library services plan. The committee, in Porter County’s case more than 20 people, must begin meeting no later than July 1 and submit a final plan by July 1, 2010.

Only five options for delivering library services are given, and whatever model is chosen by the local committee has to be approved by the Indiana State Library. Even if WPL and Porter County say they want to maintain individual library systems, said Baugher, ISL could say no. “I think that’s the key sentence in this whole thing,” he told WPL board members.

The bill requires ISL to establish statewide standards for the delivery of consistent, quality library services including administrative standards, reference services, interlibrary loan, borrowing, automation and technology. Each section concludes with “any other subject considered by (ISL) to be necessary.” Baugher feared that could extend to fines, policies, programming and other matters now decided by WPL.

Any county plan approved by ISL takes effect Jan. 1, 2011. Another concern for Baugher was that the draft bill requires the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance to adjust the maximum permissible tax levies, tax rates and budgets of political subdivisions as necessary to implement the plan, even further removing local control from the Library Board.

Overall, Baugher said of the draft bill,  “Some of it will be subject to interpretation. It’s complicated.” Nevertheless, “I expect this legislation will be approved with little changes because it’s coming from state government.”

Member Vern Odom suggested if the bill indeed passes, the WPL board meet before July 1 in a public workshop to review its options. Said member John Corso, “I’d think we’d want to maintain our individual library even if things are stacked against us.” Members noted WPL has a cordial relationship with the Porter County library system.

As outlined now WPL would have two seats on the county planning committee, whose draft plan would have to have a public hearing prior to local adoption.

Under the draft legislation a county could have a consolidated county system; a consolidated system of two or more counties; multi-system or multi-county alliances or federations; and in WPL’s case two or more independently governed library systems within a county. 

WPL operates Thomas Library, the Library Service Center and the Westchester Township History Museum, all in Chesterton, and Hageman Library in Porter. The Porter County Library System serves 11 townships and has five facilities in Valparaiso, Portage, South Haven, Hebron and Kouts. Under reciprocal borrowing patrons of either library system can use the other’s materials and collections.

On another matter the WPL board voted with member Karen Nash absent to ask the Porter County Council to reappoint long-time member Rick Hokanson to a new four-year term on the WPL board. A State Board of Accounts lawyer recently questioned whether Hokanson can seek another term based on sitting out one year, not four, between previous appointments.

Last month the board authorized asking for an official opinion from the Indiana Attorney General, but Thursday by letter WPL attorney Terry Hiestand said he doubted that would be in hand by the time Hokanson’s term expires in April. Hiestand provided his own analysis and answer to the SBA’s new position stating why he believes it is in error.

Hokanson thanked the board and it was agreed the County Council will be notified of the SBA’s concern. “I’m not opposed to serving another term but I don’t want to put the library in a difficult situation.” The SBA audits the library’s financial records.

Also Thursday:

• Baugher reported circulation at Thomas was up over 8 percent in December but down 7.45 percent at Hageman, the latter blamed on the fact the manager’s position there has been vacant,  New manager Suzi Chomel will begin work full-time Jan. 19.

• Baugher announced Hageman likely will be closed for two to four days in March while the old furnace is replaced and the ductwork cleaned and sanitized. A pre-construction meeting took place this week.

• Year-end statistics for 2008 show an overall WPL circulation dip of 2.13 percent with 363,455 items circulated last year. Public service units or individual occasions of service to a patron dropped in 2008 over 2007 by 4 percent with 856,893 PSUs logged. WPL’s website had 196,226 visits for a 5 percent jump.

• Baugher said in the Audio-Visual Department the fiction videotapes and older non-fiction videos are being heavily weeded to make room for materials in new formats. He also said the new Early Learning Workstations in the Children’s Department have been well received.

• The Library Board reconvened as an annual Board of Finance to receive 2008 financial reports. WPL earned a total $136,055 in interest on investments of the Leslie Pratt gift fund, library improvement reserve fund, rainy day and operating funds. The library currently has $1.2 million in Horizon Bank; $2.7 million invested there at 1.75 percent for six months; and has $225,000 on deposit at Porter Bank or $4,170,954 in all banks.

Posted 1/9/2009




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