Whitefish to leave county library

City decides to have independent facility

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Whitefish will have its own independent library, the Whitefish City Council decided Monday.

The council voted 5-0 to give notice to the Flathead County Library board of trustees of the city’s intent to terminate its interlocal agreement with the county on July 1, 2011, and establish a separate tax-supported city library.

The decision was based on a final opinion from Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock that says Whitefish can legally create its own city library and may collect revenue from the 5.95 mill levy the county currently collects for its valleywide library system. That means Whitefish city residents will be exempted from the county levy for library services, but will be taxed the same amount by the city of Whitefish.

The tax levy from Whitefish residents generates about $120,000 a year, but the total amount spent annually to operate the Whitefish branch is much higher than that, Flathead Library Director Kim Crowley said. Total compensation for the Whitefish library staff alone is $114,000, she added.

The Whitefish Library Association has pledged $15,000 annually for five years toward the operation of an independent library, and library supporters Jake and Connie Heckathorn recently announced a $100,000 donation. Another sizable contribution from another Whitefish donor should be forthcoming, city officials indicated.

The decision ends more than a year of strife between Whitefish library supporters and the county library board and managers.

The Whitefish Ad Hoc Library Committee — formed to study the library conflict — earlier this year delivered a lengthy report to the City Council, detailing a long list of concerns, from heavy-handed administration to inequities in resources and unacceptable treatment of Whitefish branch library employees. The report also unveiled a detailed proposal for an independent Whitefish library, including a budget and plan to divvy up the library’s 44,603 items.

The Library Board issued its own written responses to issues cited by the study group, but in the end it wasn’t enough to convince the City Council to keep the interlocal agreement in place.

Crowley said that from the county system’s perspective, “as of July 1, 2011, the Flathead County Library System will no longer be providing services out of that building.”

Until then, the county’s same level of service will continue at the Whitefish branch library.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get a transition plan in place,” Crowley said, noting that the county owns the majority of equipment and materials in the Whitefish branch, but that the city of Whitefish owns the building.

In a letter sent by Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns that is the official notice of termination, Stearns said the city plans to work with the county “on the easiest and smoothest transition for both parties.

“The city of Whitefish appreciates the excellent library services provided to our community by the Flathead County Library Board while part of the county library system,” Stearns said. “We look forward to the same cooperative assistance in the city’s withdrawal from the county library system and creation of its own independent city library.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com

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