Le Mars councilors push for county library funding change

Posted January 2, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

Le Mars city officials claim there is disparity between what city taxpayers and rural taxpayers pay for library services; therefore, they propose county officials cough up the monetary difference for rural residents to continue to receive the same library services as city residents.

Otherwise, they will cut off rural residents’ access to all electronic services offered at their library. Come July 1, rural residents would only be able to checkout “physical” library materials such as books and magazines unless they decide to personally pay the difference. The Le Mars Public Library officials will create a special “rural residents” card that will allow them to continue to use the library’s electronic services.

Le Mars Councilor Delana Ihrke explained Le Mars city residents are taxed $40.11 for library usage while rural residents pay $9.57. This means the special card would cost each rural resident about $30.54 in 2014-2015 if they wanted to use the Le Mars library’s electronic services. The fee would annually reflect the difference between the two tax rates.

Usually the Plymouth County Libraries Association, which includes library directors from each of the five libraries in the county, makes one budget presentation to the supervisors. But since, Le Mars Library Director Susan Kroesche first brought the idea to cut services to rural residents to the supervisors’ attention last fall, the other four have refused to meet with her and made a separate budget request to the supervisors on Dec. 17 — right after the Le Mars councilors’ presentation.

Akron Library Director Jeannie Frerichs, speaking on behalf of the Association, told the supervisors’ they were pleased with the budgetary increases the supervisors have granted over the past 10 years. She commended them from increasing the county’s support of its libraries from ranking 88th out of 99 counties to 71st.

“Over the past 10 years, you have increased our budget,” said Frerichs, “and you continue to do so. We know you’ve been doing your best to help us.”

“Our libraries have worked with budgets for many years,” she said. “We know if the money isn’t there, we don’t buy it or buy less or write a grant or have a fundraiser.”

“We’re satisfied with the funding we’ve received from the county,” said Frerichs. “We also would never turn down an increase.”

“There’s no organization that doesn’t need more money so they can offer better services to their communities,” she said, “but we do not want to ask for an increase at the expense of others. We don’t want to cut someone else’s budget in order to increase ours.”

“Because of this, the four libraries — and I’m hoping Le Mars, too — will continue to serve all the people in our communities and rural Plymouth County,” said Frerichs. “(The four libraries) will not turn anyone away. “

Council’s Four Options

Ihrke and Le Mars Councilor John Leonard presented four options to supervisors. They are:

1) Increase Plymouth County’s per capita support of the five municipal libraries within the county, which currently serve both rural and city residents equally, and replace the 1970s Contract for Library Services between the county and the Association.

Ihrke explained the county now pays $9.57 per capita for its rural residents while city taxpayers pay the following per capita library services tax: Akron, $53.36 per person; Le Mars, $40.11; Remsen, $37.46; Kingsley, $30.18; and Merrill, $20.10.

With this option, supervisors would pay an average of the five cities’ library subsidies, which is $36.24 per person. With the county’s rural population of 8,358, the supervisors would have to find $302,910.64 to divide among the five libraries. For this fiscal year, the county’s contribution is $80,000.

2) Option No. 2 is to look at each library individually and equalize taxes by allocating funding to each library based on the percentage of usage by rural residents. Currently, Le Mars has 40 percent; Akron, 24 percent; Remsen, 18 percent; Kingsley, 16 percent; and Merrill, 2 percent.

This would cost the county $230,820 and assumes the Merrill library would receive $1,000 from each of the other four libraries over a two-year period so that Merrill would maintain half of its current county funding.

“This equates to a county contribution of $27.62 per capita, which would move Plymouth County to a respectable 20th of 99 counties for library support based on FY 2013 information,” according to the written explanation Ihrke and Leonard presented.

This option also includes revising the Contract of Library Services. (See adjacent article,)

3) The third option wouldn’t change the contribution model or the contract used by the county to disburse funds to the libraries for rural residents.

However, the Association and the supervisors would need to define “services” and “materials” in the current contract to mean only those available when it was drafted in the 1970s — only “physical” materials with no electronic services.

Le Mars officials would create a “two-tier” library usage system whereby city residents would receive both physical materials and electronic services but rural residents would only get both if they each paid the annual fee for a special card.

4) The final option is the Le Mars library would no longer contract services with Plymouth County. Rural residents would only be able to access the Le Mars Public Library in two ways: checkout physical materials through the state’s Open Access Library System or pay a fee equal to the tax Le Mars city residents pay annually, which is currently $40.11 for this fiscal year.

“We’ve been trying for years to come up with some options to make the funding for the libraries more equitable between city taxpayers and rural taxpayers,” Ihrke told the supervisors.

She noted none of the options include Le Mars dropping out of the Open Access Library System which allows Le Mars library cardholders to check out materials from any other Iowa library participating in this system.

“Think of the old library before we had all the electronics and everything else,” said Ihrke. “(The Open Access System) is what libraries are for. That’s their purpose and if you are a proponent of libraries, you believe that should be a part of the library system.”

“Option No. 3 is the one that would maintain the current funding level,” said Ihrke. “It would be a simple change in the (Association’s) contract that would allow individual cities, if they chose to, to charge a second tier rate (to rural residents wanting to use the libraries’ electronic services).”

“It would be a choice for the individual,” she said, comparing it to cable TV charges. “They would also have the choice if they don’t use electronic services to (not get the second tier card).”

If only the Le Mars library goes to the two-tier card system, then rural residents could choose to get a “full-service” library card from the other four towns’ libraries.

It’s a risk that rural residents would go elsewhere for their library services, admitted Ihrke, adding this would in turn decrease the funding they receive from the county.

She also noted there is no way to know how much revenue the Le Mars library will make from charging rural residents an “electronic services” fee annually.

“What it does is solve a problem we have been facing as a council in Le Mars with complaints, disgruntlement between the city and rural residents having the same (library) service for two different fees,” said Ihrke, adding there is no way to ever equalize the Open Access System funding discrepancy because it’s statewide.

Ihrke noted no change to rural residents’ library services can be made until this fiscal year ends on June 30 as the county has already paid for this year.

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