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By TRISTA LUTGRING, Feature Writer
TELL CITY – Tell City-Perry County Library Director Larry Oathout announced to board members Nov. 3 that the Cannelton Library had signed a resolution to pursue a merger with their library.
Oathout attended Cannelton’s meeting Oct. 28, along with two state library representatives, to hear their board’s discussion over the merger plan. The board decided to sign a resolution to plan a merger to present to Tell City, Oathout said, and appointed three members of their board to be a part of a committee to discuss the details of the merger. Two of the committee members, Jeff Fuqua and Carla Hunter, were present at the meeting Wednesday night; Kim Myers, the third member, was unable to attend.
Oathout told board members they would have to decide if they wanted to go ahead with procedures to merge the two libraries. If the board members signed their own resolution to plan, both libraries would have one year from the date of the resolution to complete the merger.
There are seven steps that both libraries would have to go through to complete the merger, Oathout explained, the resolution to plan and forming the planning committee being the first two.
“Step three shows the main goals that the planning committee has to come up with and then eventually, after no more than a year, the library boards will sign a resolution to merge, then it goes on from there. It’s a pretty clean process,” he explained.
The state library said they would be more than willing to help with the process, he said, adding that other library directors who had been a part of successful mergers had been sending him information.
“I see two big issues now,” Oathout said.
One was if the City of Cannelton would still allow the library’s usage of the Cannelton building, which is city property, for free or for a small fee.
Fuqua told the board that he had spoken with Cannelton Mayor Smokey Graves and “it won’t be nothing, but it will be so little you won’t notice it.”
Graves told Fuqua the city would have to lease the building to keep “things legal” and made a suggestion of $1 lease.
“That seems like such a small thing, but if that’s the only thing standing between us and benefiting both groups of patrons, I’ll donate the dollar,” Fuqua told board members.
Oathout said he had talked to Chris Goffinet, attorney for Cannelton, who urged the suggestion as well.
Oathout’s second concern was the circulation systems of both libraries. The News has previously reported that Tell City-Perry County is currently looking at different options for a new circulation system. Cannelton was recently approved for the state Evergreen system and received a Schergens Foundation grant to purchase computers specifically for it.
Oathout didn’t believe the computer issue would be “too big of a deal” because the other system the library was considering was not too different than Evergreen.
Other concerns would be operating hours, materials and other expected items, but that could be “ironed out over the year,” he said.
Tell City board member Colleen Smith raised concerns about what a resolution would actually mean. “By signing this are we saying we are going to merge?” she asked.
“No,” Oathout answered, “just that we are going to plan.”
A few other points that Smith presented were budget concerns and employees.
“What happens if we determine that we can’t keep additional employees (at Cannelton) based on the funds we have and we have to close the building up there and have the bookmobile visit?” she asked.
“I don’t think anybody is expecting that this is going to be the solution for the next 150 years,” Fuqua said. “Short term, we know budgets are a problem all over the state. We’re looking at two groups of people that I represent on that board; the patrons that use my library and the employees that are currently there now.”
“If I can keep the door open so people can come in and get books and I can keep the employees I have now for the foreseeable future, I am inclined to say this has been a good step forward,” he continued. “I’m looking at what’s best for all of us when I signed on to be part of this board, and what will keep all doors open and keep us all working for at least a reasonable amount of time.”
Board President Mickey Fischer said the committee would need to know “the concerns of everyone on the board,” not just those on the committee.
“If we do decide to merge, is that forever?” she asked.
Oathout said it would be, adding that if a separate library were to start up in Cannelton again, it would have to be privately funded because “library districts have to be more than 10,000 people.”
Oathout presented the board a timeline of what would have to happen over the course of the next year of the merger process.
“This is a perfect time to start this process,” he said, pointing out that budget planning would begin in July and August, which gives the committee time to see if the merger would be possible or not.
If the libraries do merge, all monies and assets would be combined by September 2011 and an interim board of 11 members, all of the current Tell City board members plus four members from the Cannelton board, would be in effect until Dec. 31.
At that point, the interim board would dissolve to a newly appointed seven-member board for the new district, which would include two appointments from the Perry County commissioners, two from the Perry County council, two from Tell City-Troy Township School Corp. and one each from the Perry Central and Cannelton School Corps.
After the discussion, board members agreed to sign a resolution to plan a merger and appointed Smith, Fischer and Bill Dickerson to the planning committee. Board members also suggested the need to have both library directors present at the committee meetings.
A release sent to The News from Sally Walker, Cannelton Library director, stated:
“The Cannelton Public Library is struggling to survive and remain open. Last spring, the library received word from the state that property-tax revenues for the year would be cut by an estimated $4,173.
The only two areas able to absorb most of the cut were payroll and materials. Staff had to take pay cuts and assistants’ hours were reduced. Book purchases were reduced to bare minimum.
During a recent visit to the library, State Rep. Russ Stilwell stated that, under the current economic conditions, revenues will continue to decline and the library has a choice – merge with Tell City-Perry County Library or close. Our only option for survival is to merge.”
The state has been imposing mandates that are increasingly financially difficult for small libraries, resulting in closure if not met.”
Walker goes on to re-affirm what Oathout and Fuqua stated in the meeting, that the Cannelton building would not close, and stressed the point of not making rumors spreading worse.
“Some of our patrons have mistakenly construed merging to involve a physical move to Tell City.
A merger would not force the library facility in Cannelton to close,” she wrote. “A merger would result in the Cannelton Public Library and the Tell City-Perry County Public Library being two units of a larger county library system. A branch will continue to be operated in Cannelton.”
Walker also listed the advantages she saw in the merger, citing the possible increase of hours at the Cannelton branch, Cannelton residents having access to “many more books,” the bookmobile and the children’s programs that Tell City-Perry County currently offers.
Renewal for the 2011 insurance plan for library employees was also on the agenda for the meeting. If they chose to keep the same plan, Oathout explained, rates would jump 20.3 percent from $730.19 per employee to $870.87.
“There is no option to jump down to another plan,” he said. “It’s either stay here or go up.”
Employees currently contribute $15 from each paycheck toward insurance, he added. The budget approved for the next year actually covers the cost, he continued, but that was just for the moment.
Smith suggested raising the employee contribution a few dollars to help out and Fischer also suggested possibly raising the contribution amount gradually.
Oathout believed that a sum of $5 per paycheck “wasn’t a stretch” for anyone to do at once. A motion was made to accept the renewal with the contribution raise and passed.
The board’s next meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the library.