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Debate erupts over how much county should pay for library access

Local

IDAHO FALLS – Conversations about an agreement between the Idaho Falls Public Library and the Bonneville County Library District have become a hot topic in the community.

The two entities are in the process of renegotiating their service agreement, which is due to expire on Sept. 30. This is a standard practice that has taken place every few years since the contract was first implemented in 1981. As part of this agreement, the county library district pays the city library an annual service fee so county residents can access library resources. The library’s total annual budget is about $3.6 million. The county is currently paying 31% of it, which amounts to $61.50 per household per year or $1.1 million annually.

But based on the number of county residents who used the library during the last fiscal year, the city library board says the service fee from the county should be covering 42% of the annual budget.

“The original contract said it would be based on the actual cost to run the library,” Library Director Robert Wright tells EastIdahoNews.com. “In 2019, the library district said they wanted to base this on usage and so the library started keeping track of how many items were checked out by county residents and how many by city residents. The numbers show 42.4% of all check-outs come from county residents.”

Under the library’s 42% proposal, county residents through their property taxes would pay $100 per year per household equaling an additional $600,000 to $800,000 for the library annually.

Rebecca Blackson, a trustee with the Bonneville County Library District, says the county board has had conversations about not renewing the agreement with the public library and she’s concerned about county residents losing access.

“Right now, the county does not have another branch to offer county residents. The Iona and Swan Valley branch are all run through this contract. If there’s no contract, those branches will have to shut down (because they’d have no funding). Only Idaho Falls residents will be able to check out books from the Idaho Falls library unless individual county residents pay a higher annual fee (for a library card),” Blackson says.

The fee is $120 for those who don’t live in Bonneville County.

Additionally, if the contract is not renewed, nonresidents with a library card would only be able to check out physical books and would lose access to ebook services and free digital courses available through Linkedin Learning, Libby or Rosetta Stone.

Since our initial conversation with Wright and Blackson, other trustees with the library district say they’ve been bombarded with phone calls from concerned citizens about the matter, many of which have been contentious. A Facebook post Tuesday from the Idaho Falls Public Library explaining its proposal led to more confusion and resulted in more debate.

“We still have plenty of time (before the contract expires) so this has surprised us that the library posted what they did (on Facebook),” says Debra Haacke, another trustee with the Bonneville County Library District.

The community uproar and swarm of contentious phone calls led Jennifer Crofts, the chair of the Bonneville County Library District, to resign, as of Wednesday night.

In the wake of all this, Haacke says she’s had numerous conversations over the last few days with people who have inaccurate information about what’s being discussed and she’s been able to clear up a lot of confusion.

Regarding the library’s proposal, Haacke says an additional $600,000 to $800,000 a year raises a lot of questions in her mind.

“If you jump $700,000 a year later for the same services, that’s a huge red flag and anyone in their right mind would question that,” she says. “We want library services for county residents but you can’t just roll over and be silent and sign and that’s what I feel like I’m being forced to do and that’s not right.”

Haacke and other members of the library district are looking forward to discussing the matter further with the city board during a public meeting on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. It will be held in meeting room 1 of the library. The community is invited to attend and weigh in.

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