Commissioners try to clear the air on library anger
By David Louis
RAWLINS — The one thing conspicuously absent during the Carbon County Commissioner’s Tuesday afternoon open discussion was an audience.
In the wake of a barrage of media reports, it was not surprising the commissioners wanted a chance to respond to criticism leveled against the board regarding the budget process and how tightening revenues affected the county’s library system.
After placing a press release on record with commissioners expressing continued support of the county’s libraries, Commissioner Sue Jones addressed the topic.
“I guess I will go out on a limb here, which might not be terribly smart politically, but the vial nature of politics here has gotten me weary and I think an explanation needs to be made,” Jones said, visibly affected by stress the recent days have caused.
The firestorm first began in February when the county commissioners started the budget process two months early, knowing they would have to make deep cuts in all departments and maintain a no new hire stance unless absolutely necessary.
After several attempts to craft a budget for the Carbon County Library System, a special meeting June 20 joined by county commissioners and the library board tried to reach consensus.
“We all started out to save our libraries, to keep every library open and functioning. Several of us walked away from that meeting in Sinclair thinking that we had met compromise,” Jones said.
“I did not make their budget. I simply took the revenue figures that we as county commissioners were responsible for and plugged it into the budget that they had already presented, as well as an expenditure item cutting some staff that the library had made themselves.”
By all reports, at the end of that meeting there were hugs all the way around in celebration that everyone had worked in concert to craft a responsible budget.
Then things exploded — with accusations and anger coming from all sides that Jones had usurped the budget process.
Jones disagrees she did so, saying she was only trying to bring expertise and insight into what the library board was trying to achieve.
“I took the budget they had presented to us, on their form. I took the revenue the county commissioners put out there — the $150,000 levy and the $75,000 that we had allocated for use in the outlying libraries to combat the threat of closing those libraries,” Jones said.
Leaving the June 20 meeting and a budget forged in controversy, Jones had thought everyone was finally on the same page.
“The library board agreed to it. I didn’t hear the chair vote no, but it’s imploded and that’s the unfortunate part — that we lost track of what we were all supposed to be taking care of here,” Jones said.
“It saddens me that we put it into the hands of people who said they could handle it the best. They knew the most and trust us to take care of it, and they are the very ones who are closing it. That saddens me.”
Jones maintains there is a tremendous amount of misinformation on who exactly shaped the library’s budget.
“I don’t want credit for their budget. I didn’t do their budget and I didn’t force their budget on them. They were struggling making budgets, trying to fit figures and we just needed to get somewhere and I guess I’m a drive-the-wagon kind of a person and that’s how we got to where we are at. We needed to plug in the figures and see how it washed out,” Jones said.
“We were short $36,000 in balancing it. The county commissioners offered that out of our reserve account, which we are into with this tight budget, to (help) balance that budget leaving them with a $400,007 budget, which is considerably less than the $700,000 budgets that they were used to in the past.”
The commissioners backed up Jones’ assertions that, for the past few years, they have worked to prepare the library board that fiscally challenging times were ahead.
“We have talked to them a couple of years now trying to lead them to the water, but this is going to get hard and you have to do something else. We were met with resistance and to be brutally honest threats of closing libraries every time,” Jones said.
“I have been in political life and public service for over 30 years and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite as hostile as this has turned out to be. It’s gone viral on faceless Facebook. No one seems to want to sit down and talk about it.
“I do have hope that this will work itself out. We have very competent people coming onto the library board. I … think we will get back on track to keep all of our libraries open and functioning. I think it can be done. We just need to stop the anger, the revenge, the retaliation and the fighting amongst ourselves.”
Always the voice of moderation, Commissioner Lindy Glode said it was a perfect storm that developed in the waning days of the budget process.
“For three years now we’ve been stating what’s happening and what’s coming,” Glode said.
“I really believe a lot of it is — and no blaming here — but a lot of it is through directors leaving and board members changing. I think everything got a little confusing. We want this to be water under the bridge, but for the last three years we’ve been upfront about what’s happening. We caved in a couple of years and didn’t cut the library very much and this year we had too. It was very sad.”
Commissioner Leo Chapman said the library was not the only department to be hit with cuts.
“The situation has become emotional and in our business we can’t make emotional decisions. We have to make them based on what we have available. Our budget has been cut, so we had to cut everybody else. We have an obligation to provide funding to the entire county, which I think we’ve done fairly well. Everybody took a hit. Nobody was left without some pain,” Chapman said.
“This has not been easy on any department. We are straining at this point to meet the constitution obligations of this county, and I don’t know what we’re going to do next year, but here’s where we are at today.”