Three Timberland Regional Library board members, who serve on the library’s facilities committee, said Wednesday they will recommend to the larger board later this month that the recently disclosed capital facilities plan be rejected.
The plan, which was posted on Timberland’s website last week, has caused a stir throughout the library’s five-county service district. It proposes sweeping changes, including rural library branch closures, to address projected budget deficits of $700,000 in 2019 and 2020.
Why the deficits? Expenses continue to go up in the form of staff pay and benefits, while revenues are down. And finance manager, Eric Lowell, reminded staff, board and audience members at Wednesday’s facilities committee meeting that the library system has limited control over some revenue sources. Property tax increases, for example, are capped at 1 percent a year, he said.
The committee consists of three board members — Corby Varness, Brian Zylstra and Brenda Hirschi — but they also were joined by administrative staff. Although no public comment was allowed at the meeting, about 20 people still attended.
Early in the meeting, Varness read a letter she had received from a patron concerned about the proposed closure of a library branch in Montesano. The writer said it would devastate the charm of downtown Montesano and has “created a tight lump in my throat.”
Varness urged those in the room to take these kinds of stories seriously.
“There has been a tremendous breech of trust in our communities,” she said later in the hour-long meeting. “And we have a lot of work to do to regain that trust.”
She also asked whether the release of the capital facilities plan had been handled in the right way. Staff defended the decision to post it on the front page of the website, saying they wanted to be up front and transparent with the public.
Board member Zylstra thanked staff for making a good faith effort with the plan, but he could not accept it as is.
Under the plan, several rural library branches would close, while new branches have been proposed in Olympia and Lacey to address overcrowding. That’s not fair, he said. Libraries in smaller communities fill a much larger role because they act as community and youth centers.
He said there are elements of the capital facilities plan worth considering, but overall he can’t support it.
“We should not pass the plan as is,” he said.
Board member Hirschi said the plan had raised so many questions that she felt it wise to take a step back.
“I’m not sure where we can go until we get these questions answered,” she said.
Varness was more blunt, saying she rejects the plan as it stands. That led to a clarifying question about the committee’s role.
She later said they should use the current proposal as a reference document and get to work on something new.
The facilities committee will make its recommendation to the full board at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the library system’s Tumwater service center, 415 Tumwater Blvd. SW. That meeting is expected to have public comment.