Citizens with opinions on the proposed county-wide library system packed the Commissioners' Room of the County Courthouse to capacity yesterday afternoon, spilling out into the hallway before their concerns were addressed.
Many opinionated residents came to the courthouse at 9 a.m. Monday, over an hour earlier than the topic's scheduled discussion time at the monthly County Commissioners meeting.
When the discussion started, however, many of those spectators were surprised to learn that the decision was not up to the commissioners.
Under Indiana Code 20-14-5.1, the library board of a public library can file a proposal with the legislative body of a county, in this case the commissioners, to expand their current system into more than one township of a county. When the proposal is filed, the county's auditor's office has 10 days to publicize the proposal. After the publication, the county's residents have 60 days to sign a petition in support of the proposal or a remonstrance against it.
Jill Scarborough of the Brazil Public Library officially told the commissioners of her intent at Monday's meeting, giving the auditor's office 10 days to publicize the intentions.
Scarborough said that under a county-wide system, every Property Taxpayer in the county would be charged a set amount per $100 assessed valuation. At six cents per, she said, no new full-time employees could be hired and the Clay County branch would not see an increase in open days, at least initially. Additionally, no new reference databases could be added to any branch.
The amount charged would be up to the Department of Local Government Finance in Indianapolis. If a county-wide system were accepted, a county library board would be formed to approach the DLGF. Additionally, the library board would have the right to petition the board for an increase in rates without the consent of the county.
It has been speculated that Brazil residents would probably see a small decrease in their property taxes if the county signed approved the measure.
The petition is only available to registered voters within the county. It was unclear if the measure would be defeated if less than 20 percent in a township signed, or if that particular township would simply not be offered a branch of the library if other counties voted it in.
All three commissioners stated they had no power over the measure. President David Parr said that he, along with the other two, had received a number of phone calls both for and against the proposal.
"Basically, I'm saying let up on my calls," Commissioner Harold "Buddy" Knox said with a laugh.
"It's out of the commissioners' hands," Auditor Joe Dierdorf added.
It was also noted that the Brazil Public Library's South Branch, in Clay City, would be renamed something similar to the Clay County Library South Branch.
Of the many residents who showed up to the meeting, only a few voiced their opinions. Jack Knust, president of Clay County Farm Bureau, said that he was not in agreement with the method of funding for the proposed system.
"That's just not fair," he said. "It'll be six cents now, but I guarantee in 10 or so years it'll be 15 or 20 cents."
Another resident who didn't support the funding said that "many of Clay County's older residents would not be here much longer" if the measure went through.
A Harrison Township resident spoke in defense of the proposed system, stating that her kids loved the library.
"I have to drive 30 minutes to get to Brazil," she said. "It would be a lot easier on a lot of people if this were accepted."
Parr quieted the crowd after a few more comments, claiming that while "there could be some heated discussion over this... all the commissioners can do today has been done."
In other news, it was decided that contractor bids for the new Clay County Jail would be accepted and opened on May 26 at 10 a.m.
Additionally, the courthouse's dome roof was discussed. It has apparently sprung a rather large leak and will need to be fixed as soon as possible. Knox said the price would be close to $500,000. It has been used 90 years without problems until now. The use of the capital improvement fund to fix the ailing roof was discussed.
"To be honest, we'd better be glad we had a dry April," Knox said. "We're going to have to get it fixed or have some major damage done."
Among other topics, the board also discussed new machinery for the Clay County Highway Department and the status of the bridge on White Rock Road. It was decided that the highway department should contact an engineer to see the site before further work was done.
The Clay County Commissioners meet the first Monday of every month at 9 a.m. The public is invited.