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TMCNet:  Small Weld County towns are seeking to disband library district board [Greeley Tribune, Colo. :: ]

[April 06, 2014]

Small Weld County towns are seeking to disband library district board [Greeley Tribune, Colo. :: ]

(Greeley Tribune (CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 06--High tension and emotions over how High Plains Library District should be run have reached a breaking point.

City and town officials with the communities that founded the district will seek this week to disband the current board of trustees and replace it with representatives they find more fitting.

Leaders with Ault, Eaton, Hudson, Greeley, Fort Lupton, Fort Lupton Re-8 School District and Weld County will meet Monday to review the candidates they selected for the new board. They will then return to their respective boards and councils to pass a resolution to remove the current High Plains board members.


If that happens, representation for each of the areas served by High Plains, the umbrella district that provides basic services to all libraries in Weld County, could be skewed, said Janine Reid, executive director of High Plains Library District.

But representation as it is ignores libraries in communities with fewer users, say town officials.

"From Ault's standpoint, it's been 10 years of the same thing," said Ault Mayor Gary "Butch" White. "We try and discuss things, make our opinions known, and they seem to have no concern for it. So it's finally to the point where we are fed up with it." Disagreements about High Plains erupted last fall over a convoluted nomination process for a vacant seat on the Board of Trustees.

The incident spurred a continuing dispute in which member libraries -- six libraries with their own boards of directors who have autonomy with their budgets -- say they are being forced to adopt practices and regulations the District requires of its branch libraries.

The district, which provides information technology services, equipment and other infrastructure to all libraries and runs branch libraries in Greeley, Kersey and Firestone, argues it is important to streamline services and equipment to use tax dollars efficiently and provide a consistent experience for all library patrons.

When the seven original communities formed High Plains, the intent was to pool their money to maximize the number of materials and other resources available to Weld patrons while maintaining control over local preferences. In their 1985 agreement, the founding communities agreed the district would keep one third of the property taxes collected in each member's service area, which follows school district boundaries, and the remainder of the money would be allocated by the local library boards.

Since then, Platteville, Hudson and Johnstown opted to become member libraries with their own boards, while Greeley gave total control of its libraries to High Plains.

Now, 89 percent of High Plains' patrons are served through branch libraries, Reid said, which is why she worries that changing the board's representation could negatively impact overall library service.

Lucile Arnusch, who represents Fort Lupton, Hudson and LaSalle areas as chair of the High Plains Board of Trustees, similarly said she fears branch libraries could lose some services, such as databases, if they are less popular among the smaller towns represented on the board.

More than that, Arnusch said it takes months to learn the ropes of managing a library district.

"I am concerned about the status of library services, if a bunch of people come onto the board that have no background, know nothing about library law, and may or may not have an agenda," she said.

Weld County Commissioner Mike Freeman disagreed, saying board members will still represent diverse areas of the county, and selecting members from the founding communities would ensure the district gets back to more local control.

Freeman said Ault, Eaton and Fort Lupton officials have been coming to commissioners with grievances against High Plains for at least a year. He said he would have been skeptical if just one town approached commissioners with a problem, but that's not the case.

"It's every single library that is not a branch library that is having a problem," Freeman said. "That tells me .. it's the central library's issue." That's why commissioners two months ago hosted a meeting among library and town officials to start looking for solutions, he said.

"This really is nothing being driven by the county," Freeman said. "The only reason we are involved is because we had mayors coming to us to help them." Over the years, High Plains has taken on new services for member libraries when new technologies come up, Reid said, such as offering Wi-Fi.

Now, the district needs a new software system, and High Plains officials used the transition period as a chance to address the discrepancies among all libraries.

District officials told member libraries they had two choices: either they could accept the new software along with a new set of guidelines on how to use it and the services to be provided, or they could choose to forego the new software and take complete control over their circulation and other systems.

Either way, the district still would keep its one-third share of revenue per the 1985 agreement.

Member libraries said they felt they were presented with an ultimatum. If they chose the latter option, they would be forced to operate their libraries with fewer dollars and fewer benefits from joining forces with the district.

Since then, Reid said the district has offered to return 90 percent of the revenue gathered in service areas where member libraries do not want to adopt the new software.

But the spar between library and town officials is much less about the software change than a political disagreement.

The small towns that make up the member libraries want local control, and they say their concerns are being brushed aside by district officials.

"We are not trying to get anything more than anyone else or take advantage of the situation," White said. "We are just tired of not being listened to." Greeley officials, who gave up control of their libraries to High Plains years ago, are straddling their role as a founding community and as a branch library.

"From our perspective, they are operating fine," said Greeley Mayor Tom Norton of High Plains.

Norton said he doesn't plan to "hold out" on the other founding communities in his vote if all of them wish to dissolve the current board of trustees.

"I am not sure that I believe that they have to remove everybody to do it, but if that is what it takes, that is what it takes," Norton said.

He said he wants to be sure Greeley's libraries still will be adequately represented, and must gather more information on the proposal before Monday.

Greeley Council Member Mike Finn, who served as Greeley's designee in the most recent board nomination process, said if those communities have needs that are not being met, they certainly need to be listened to. But Finn said he doesn't understand the need to remove the entire board.

Two years after High Plains was founded in 1985, state law was changed to eliminate member libraries. Reid said the state recognized the hybrid arrangement between a taxing district and individual boards would not work.

"Establishment of the library district was systematically flawed from the very beginning," Reid said. "I feel like I am responsible ... And they feel like they are responsible for what that looks like in their branch. And we are both right." ___ (c)2014 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) Visit the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) at www.greeleytribune.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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