Calloway County Library expansion sparks community controversy

Chalice Keith/TheNews

Story by Lindsey Coleman, Contributing writer and Sydney Anthony, Contributing writer

Calloway County Judge Executive Larry Elkins sent several emails to the community expressing his disapproval of what he thought was an $8 million project. However, Library Board of Trustees acting president Ryan Alessi said some of the information Elkins is spreading to the community is not true.

On Sept. 14, in response to WPSD’s Calloway County Library Taxing District report, Elkins sent an email intended for “Calloway County taxpayers and other interested parties.”

Elkins wrote, “The point of this hard luck story is, we can’t and shouldn’t raise taxes to meet every need and satisfy the wishes of every group.”

However, the library board voted to approve a lower tax rate at the Aug. 10 board meeting. Alessi said the board lowered real estate taxes by 8 percent and personal property taxes by 52 percent.

Alessi said the Calloway County Public Library is funded with a portion of the county’s taxes on real estate property and personal property, which is based on cents-per-$100 of assessed value.

“Most of what I’ve heard has been from community members and supporters of the library who don’t understand why Elkins keeps misrepresenting facts and sending out emails that are not accurate,” Alessi said.

In his 2011 State of the Community address, Elkins said he wanted to see a library expansion before the end of his term in 2018.

Alessi said this expansion project has been several years in the making. He said extensive research has been conducted to see what would be the best option for Calloway County’s library and an architect was hired in January to work on the project. The Calloway County Library Board of Trustees is looking into expansion options for the current library building. However, the community has expressed concern about the changes.

Alessi said the current library was last renovated in the 1970s, and it has 12,047 square feet, which, according to state standards, is half of the expected size of a library in a county with 38,000 people like Calloway.

“It’s quite obvious that the library is just too small for Calloway County,” Alessi said.

Alessi said Elkins cannot keep the expansion from happening, but his comments do play a pivotal role in the discussion of expansion.

“I personally just want to make sure what he’s saying is accurate because it helps no one to misrepresent the facts,” Alessi said.

Expansion isn’t the only library issue that involves Elkins.

Alessi said Elkins has yet to name new library board members, even though the board sent out nominations to fill the position in May.

According to the library bylaws, the board selects two nominees for each seat, and those nominees are referred to the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives, which are then sent to the judge executive for Calloway County for selection.

Chalice Keith/TheNews

Chalice Keith/TheNews

Alessi has been the acting president since his term as secretary ended Aug. 15. He said the previous president had to step down due to prior obligations. He said he must remain in the position until Elkins selects new board members.

“He’s the one who gets to select the board members,” Alessi said. “That’s all in the judge’s control.”

In the aforementioned email, Elkins said he was concerned about more worthy community needs such as a renovated animal shelter and courthouse.

As for monetary concerns for the library expansion, Alessi said the library has already started saving.

“He’s right, the county has other needs, but those needs are to be addressed by the fiscal court,” Alessi said. “The money that the library has been setting aside for capital improvement is money that was set aside specifically for the library.”

Alessi said the library currently has $2.5 million to put toward the expansion, and he said there is no official $8 million project at all, despite Elkin’s email to the community.

He said right now the board is working to decide what community members want in a 21st century library.

He said some community members have questioned how many people actually use the library. According to the Department for Libraries and Archives, in fiscal year 2014-2015, more than 329,000 visits were made to the Calloway County Public Library.

“We’re taking our time,” Alessi said. “We’re getting feedback from the community at every step of the way. We’re doing this all in public meetings so that things go in intervals. That has always been our plan: to go very methodically and to do our due diligence.”

The next library board meeting is on Oct. 12, when it hopes to set a direction for the project and assess the next steps that need to be taken. All meetings are open to the public.

Click here to read a Q&A with Elkins regarding the library expansion.