Library funding hearing produces no answers

By Buck Traxler, I-O Editor
   Thursday evening close to 70 people poured into the courthouse for a public hearing. The purpose of the hearing was to gather, if any, public input on funding for the libraries in Conrad and Valier.
   Over the past few weeks the funding mechanism for the two public entities has become a contentious topic. The history of the funding was reviewed by Country Attorney Mary Ann Ries and Clerk and Recorder Janis Hoppes.
   The meeting was chaired by the county commissioners. Sandy Broesder, county chairman told those in the courtroom, “We’re here tonight because we care about our libraries. Whatever we do tonight, half of this room is going to be disappointed. We can’t, at this time, make any decisions.”
   In reviewing the funding,  Hoppes found that the current levy for the two libraries began about 1961 when there was a county library board. Apparently it was determined then to split county funding at 57 percent for the Conrad library and 43 percent for the Valier library. The decision was based on the two cemetery districts.
   In her research, Hoppes found that the old board decided the split by dividing the market value of land in the Valier Cemetery District by the market value of land in the Conrad Cemetery District.
   Hoppes believes the right way to calculate a pro-rate percentage is to add the value of the market value of the two cemetery districts and then divide the Valier Cemetery District value by the total and the Conrad Cemetery District by the total.
   Doing that, there is a pro-rate of 70 percent for Conrad and 30 percent for Valier.
   It was found that, for whatever reason, the county library board that was in place in the 1960s disbanded or went away in the late 1970s. Commissioners since way back then and to date have used the 57/43 percent funding split.
   Carolyn Donath has been the director of the Conrad library for the last five years and read an impassioned statement at the hearing.
   She, in part, said that the funding issue is about, “the future of our library, not the past. I’m asking for a split of levy funds based on simple population and usage of our facility.”
   She noted that the library averages 91 patrons a day, computer usage is one the rise, 250 users per week compared to 27 and 50 respectively for the Valier library.
   The Conrad library also delivers books and serves the Pondera Medical Center nursing home, the Horizon Lodge, Beehive Homes, the area Hutterite colonies, Head Start and the public schools in Conrad.
   Donath touched on a number of other items, noting the higher number of patrons, 4,060 to Valier’s’ 664 and a higher general population base and much larger building size that equates to higher utility bills and more area to clean.
   “Our situation is such that one bad winter could blow our budget; it is that tight and has been for years. I think it’s time for a change,” she added.
   Amber Malinak, a volunteer at the Valier library also had a prepared statement to read.
   Malinak noted the library hours have been increased, four computers have been added for public use, resources and books have been expanded for the school system not to mention classes, speakers, and entertainment to the community takes place.
   “With our economy in a slump, money is a touchy subject. We understand that the Conrad library is concerned with the shortage of their budget, but we feel that shortening our budget is not the answer.”
   In her statement, she also noted that in 2002 the taxpayers voted in favor of a mill levy for additional funding for the two libraries. It passed, but the Valier library did not actively participate in the move to make so because it was felt the levy would fail at the time. A second levy for continued funding passed in 2006.
   Malinak noted that the Valier library had not received town funding for four years and the Conrad library has seen the council cut their funding in half. “Perhaps our discussions regarding our funding should be with them and not each other.”
   A large number of people praised both libraries, stressing their community importance and services.
   However, one individual had a different point of view, Dan McIntyre, made the rafters ring, berating everyone in the courtroom, including the commissioners saying, “Shame on all of you and shame on the commissioners for letting this come down to a partisan fight, I’m appalled!” Then he left the courtroom.
   There was no action taken by the commissioners at the meeting. They can’t do anything until the county budget is set which they are currently working on.