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Cash woes tempt library merger

A union of Columbia and Centralia districts may be in the books.
Friday, November 3, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:14 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

A conversation between two local library districts about sharing tax revenues has led to a suggestion about merging the Centralia Public Library with the Daniel Boone Regional Library system.

The merger idea came in response to a proposal from the Centralia district, which wants tax revenues from 126 property owners who live in Centralia but pay taxes to the Boone County Library District.

The Centralia library, which can only tax property owners within the city limits established in 1965, estimates that such an arrangement would generate $6,000 this year and help offset deficit spending that’s been eating into its reserve funds.

“We don’t need more services, but money,” Centralia board member Don Bormann said at a meeting Wednesday with trustees from the Boone County Library District.

“We’ve been deficit spending. We are going to have to decrease staff. We are going to end up broke. We need to balance our budget.”

The potential for a merger arose after Centralia officials left the Wednesday meeting at the Columbia Public Library. Lorry Myers, president of the Centralia library board, said on Thursday that she had never considered a merger but would approach the idea with an open mind.

“Centralia owns our library, and it belongs to the taxpayers and people who’ve lived here,” Myers said, adding that any decision would depend on the citizens of Centralia.

Benefits of a merger could include a bigger building and more parking spaces, Myers said. The downside would be losing a measure of control, including the possibility of someone else ordering the library’s books, she said.

Tom Richards, vice president of the Columbia Library District board, said a merger could give Centralia better library services.

“We need to think big,” he said. “It could make sense for them to be part of the system. Centralia isn’t able to afford some of the same services as we have. We all owe it to the library patrons in Boone County to weigh the pros and cons of a possible merger or alliance.”

Centralia’s tax-sharing proposal would be “putting a Band-Aid on a wound because the amount of money being asked for by Centralia wouldn’t really solve its problems,” Richards said. “We should be looking for a longer term, more permanent solution.”

Richards noted that a similar equity issue exists involving the Columbia Library District, which also relies on tax revenues from property owners living in the 1965 city limits.

Further conversations are expected between regional library director Melissa Carr and Centralia library director Patt Olsen before the issue is presented again to the respective boards.

The regional library system, meanwhile, is in the midst of expansion plans. Officials are eyeing five acres just north of the Boone County Fairground to build a 15,000- to 20,000-square-foot branch to better serve residents on the city’s north side, where large population increases are forecast in the next 20 years. Planning is under way to build a library in Ashland for southern Boone County residents. The Ashland project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, according to Kris Farris, DBRL public relations coordinator.

Both branches would be located within the Boone County Library District, and library officials have said they likely will approach voters next year with a tax increase to finance the two projects. The county district has not set a date for a vote on financing “because at this point we are working on the estimated amounts,” said Jessica Robinson, the secretary of the county library board.

A portion of this report first aired Thursday during “News At 10” on KMIZ/Channel 17 ABC, Columbia.


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