Fiscal Court addresses ongoing public library concerns

Story by Lindsey Coleman, Staff writer and Abby Siegel, News Editor

At a special session of the Calloway County Fiscal Court Thursday, the court designated the meeting to tackle the issues of the Calloway County Public Library.

Appointing a new library board member, passing a “Transparency Ordinance,” discussing the selling of the Higgins House to nonprofit Murray Main Street, addressing library financial issues and changing procedures for approving appointments made by Judge-Executive Larry Elkins were all discussed.

Approximately 100 community members listened to the hour and a half meeting, many of whom were library employees, concerned citizens and local officials.

NEW MEMBER APPOINTMENT

Riley Ramsey, 15-year resident of Calloway County, was named a new Library Board member at the Fiscal Court meeting after concerns developed of the legitimacy of former board member and chairman, Ryan Alessi.

Alessi no longer resides in Calloway County, and the bylaws of the Library Board require members to live where they serve. Ramsey replaced Alessi.

On the issue of library expansion, Ramsey said he couldn’t imagine anyone being against it.

“We want to keep up with the technology,” Ramsey said. “We want to keep pace with bringing new things to Calloway County. We just need to be sure we do it in a fiscally responsible way.”

Ramsey is the former assistant superintendent for Webster County Schools where he served as the director of technology. He said he wants to bring his expertise in this area to the library.

He said his love of books came when he was around 10 years old when he volunteered at his local library. He remains an avid reader to this day.

Ramsey’s position took effect immediately upon the court’s approval, and Ramsey recited the oath following the meeting’s adjournment.

“If we meet in a middle ground someplace, I think we can get things done,” Ramsey said. “I’m not one that ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

TRANSPARENCY ORDINANCE

Concerns of the amount of taxpayer money spent on advertising and marketing for the library were addressed, and a “Transparency Ordinance” was passed to communicate to the public how materials are paid for.

This ordinance would apply to all public agencies that collect taxes.

Similarly to a political advertisement, the marketing or advertising material produced by the library would be required to state who paid for it, including taxpayer money when used.

Elkins shared advertising costs of the library between Oct. 2014 – Oct. 2016. On the list of expenditures was a $735 monthly fee for 30-second radio spots, a $6,000 billboard fee and thousands of dollars for local newspaper advertisements, among other marketing and advertising expenses.

“I’ve never seen a public entity spend this kind of money on marketing and advertising,” Elkins said. “I’m not saying it’s illegal, I think it’s excessive.”

The motion passed at the meeting, but by Kentucky law, the ordinance requires a second reading before it’s made law. Elkins said the second reading will be in late February or March.

HIGGINS HOUSE

The court tabled a resolution that would demand the library to recover the Higgins House, a building adjacent to the library’s property, from Murray Main Street Program, Inc.

In 2012 the library sold the property to Murray Main Street for $1, a value which attorney Chip Adams, counselor on the issue, said called into question the validity of the sale. The building’s cash value is estimated to be $150,000.

The argument was that the transaction had lack of a public purpose. The transaction was deemed void, and a resolution demanded the relinquishing of the Higgins House back into the hands of the library was proposed.

Elkins said he does not think anyone on the library board or Murray Main Street intended to violate the law, but the issue needs to be resolved before moving on with expansion.

FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Ricky Lamkin, senior serving member of the library board of trustees, gave a report of the financial state and expansion process of the library.

“The trustees who volunteer their time are committed to ensuring that this community has a proper public library that is needed,” Lamkin said.

At 12,048 square feet, Lamkin said the building is woefully inadequate for the community’s needs. He said the library has $350,000 – 450,000 from tax revenue in the bank for the future expansion, and the considerations for it are still being discussed.

“We feel like we’re being responsible with the taxpayer money,” Mignon Pittman, library director, said.

She said being fiscally responsible at the library is a priority for her. She said the board sets the budget, then they operate out of the budget and they see all of the financial statements.

“If there are issues about our spending, they can amend the budget. It’s as simple as that,” Pittman said. “It’s our job to follow what the board sets forward.”

SENATE BILL 48

Previously, the fiscal court and judge-executive could only accept board members who had been appointed by the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives.

SB 48 allows for the judge-executive to make appointments if the recommendations of the department are not preferable.

The resolution was proposed and approved by the fiscal court to support SB 48. Elkins can now appoint Library Board members.

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