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I.F. Public Library and Bonneville County Library District split over budget; new Ammon library in the works

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IDAHO FALLS – The fate of the annual service agreement between the Idaho Falls Public Library and the Bonneville County Library District has been determined.

During a meeting on May 3, the county library district voted 3-2 in favor of not renewing the contract and as result, the district is planning to open a new library in Ammon this fall.

“This decision came after extensive deliberation, research, and consultation with other local libraries as well as the Idaho Commission for Libraries,” Bonneville County Library District Trustee Rebecca Blackson writes in an email to EastIdahoNews.com.

The contract expires on Sept. 30, which means patrons who live in the county outside Idaho Falls city limits will have to pay a non-resident fee for IFPL services after that date. The fee is $120.

RELATED | Debate erupts over how much county should pay for library access

Ending the service agreement between the two entities ends a 40-year history of contract negotiations. Since 1981, the county library district has paid the city library an annual service fee in exchange for access to library resources. The county is currently paying 31% of the library’s $3.6 million annual budget, which amounts to $1.1 million.

Conversations about the service agreement began in February when the Idaho Falls Public Library board determined the county should be covering 42% of the annual budget, or an additional $600,000 to $800,000, based on an increase in the number of county patrons.

RELATED | Library district divided over fee proposal; debate continues

This sparked months of debate, which ultimately resulted in the final decision.

“We had given IFPL a final offer of an annual payment of $1,115,833, which they unanimously rejected at their April 28th meeting,” Blackson writes.

Blackson explains no one on the county board was against the contract itself. The issue is that they couldn’t agree on the appropriate amount. Paying an additional $600,000 to $800,000 annually would’ve nearly doubled what they paid last year.

“My fellow board members thought that was simply too high,” says Blackson. “We didn’t want to nearly double our resident’s household fee in just one year for no new services. We realized we could run an independent library system on our current budget without doubling our residents’ fee.”

Blackson was originally in favor of renewing the contract because she was concerned about the possibility of county residents losing access to the library.

Opening a library in Ammon has been an ongoing discussion for several years. After months of exploring different options, Blackson says they’re planning to open one on Oct. 1

“We don’t want to have our residents go without a library,” says Blackson. “We’re looking at a 7,000-square-foot base in Ammon and we’re in lease negotiations at this point.”

Blackson did not disclose the specific location because a deal has not been finalized, but those details will be forthcoming once the lease has been signed. Budget funds will be used to pay for books and other resources.

Blackson is thrilled to finally see this project move forward.

“It’s a wonderful thing to make these decisions and put the branches where our residents need them,” she says. “(Getting our own library) is a great option now, especially where the county is growing so much. That was the issue with how expensive the service contract was. If we’re so big, we should run our own library.”

The Iona and Swan Valley libraries are also operated by the county library district. They will remain in operation with increased hours and services. Additional branches on the west side of Idaho Falls and in Ucon are a future priority as well.

With the loss of 31% of its annual budget, Idaho Fall Public Library Director Robert Wright says there will also be a reduction in daily traffic, but overall, he anticipates it being “business as usual.”

Regarding the final decision, he says the county trustees are elected to represent the people in their county. He “wishes them the best and hopes it works out for them.”

“As a library, we felt like we provided a really good service and we’ll continue to provide a good service to (residents) and those who are interested in paying for those services,” Wright says.

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