ImagineIF campaigns for library facilities

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Officials with ImagineIF Libraries have urged the public to take action on recent decisions made by the Flathead County commissioners to decline county ownership of any library facilities and remove the system’s libraries from the county’s capital improvement plan.

The campaign by ImagineIF comes just a couple of days before the commissioners are scheduled to vote on the county’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020 and a capital improvement plan for the next five years. Library officials have requested local residents to attend to voice their support on the matter. Public comments will be taken for 15 minutes starting at 8:30 a.m. The commissioners will consider adopting the preliminary budget at 9:15 a.m. The commissioners chambers are located on the third floor of the courthouse in Kalispell.

“It’s a really important time to pack the room and speak up for the need for library facilities,” Charlotte Housel, executive director of the ImagineIF Library Foundation, said in a recent email.

ImagineIF also sent out a multiple-page “advocacy kit” prepared by the ImagineIF Library Foundation, asking for the public’s help in persuading the county that investing in modern, purpose-designed library facilities is critical to the library’s long-term ability to serve Flathead County’s growing population, and that appropriate budget increases to support new facilities are both “affordable and in the interest of all the citizens.”

The commissioners have maintained in recent meetings and in a press release that the $1.9 million allotted to the library system every year is adequate funding.

“The commissioners do not want to spend additional tax dollars on new library facilities in Bigfork, Columbia Falls or Kalispell. Library operations are not being defunded. The present library system will be funded as is, without any changes from previous years,” a recent press release from the commissioners noted. “The commissioner supports the Library Foundation pursuing other sources of funding, such as grants and community donations, for its planned facility changes.”

But according to the advocacy document, “adequate funding is not a static number” and points to the 24% growth in population in Flathead County since 2000. And according to a Facilities Master Plan developed in 2014, all three facilities, in Bigfork, Kalispell and Columbia Falls, are severely undersized for the populations they serve.

According to an email from ImagineIF officials, Commissioners Randy Brodehl and Pam Holmquist on Monday toured the Bethany Lutheran Church Ark Building, the site library officials are proposing becomes new home for the Bigfork library.

The building was recently purchased by the ImagineIF Library Foundation and library officials had intended to give the building to the county so it could be owned under the Flathead County name — an ownership situation that is typical for public libraries across the United States, but not in Flathead County where all three libraries are currently not owned by either the county or the library. The proposed Bigfork library would also require an additional $40,000 to $50,000 annually on top of the $1.9 million provided to the library system from the county.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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