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The District's Future

The Timberland Regional Library has reached a point in its

development where fiscal constraints have begun restricting its

ability to improve and expand public services. In fact, the·

district may find by year's end it currently is unable to support

all programs now in place. Fortunately, the District Board of

Trustees and Administrative staff have been aware of potential I

funding difficulties since the beginning of this decade. The Board

and staff have developed a Planning Task Force to examine library

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service in Timberland and both groups are prepared to initiate a

review of the District's structure.

The charge of the Planning Task Force, which includes Board

members, Professional staff, and non-professional staff, is

multi-faceted. The group is to gather information about the

library District and its participating communities. This i.ncludes

compiling demographic data such as the number of young children,

teenagers, and senior citizens in the Timberland service area;

educational and occupational characteristics of the population;

literacy rates; and population density changes. The Task Force

must also identify other cultural and i.nformation resources that

complement or supplement district library services.

In addition to gathering data about population

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characteristics of the Timberland service area, the Planning Task Force must complete a survey of library users and non-users. This will help district decision makers to understand the library oriented wants and needs of the Timberland community.

The information about the Timberland Service area will require careful analysis. This analysis should be complimented by a complete study of the District's physical facilities. The Task Force then can develop a description of library services and the means by which they currently are made available to the public.

Once the Planning Task Force has completed its field work, it must prepare for the Timberland Board of Trustees a statement of the purpose of the library district, proposed goals and objectives, and strategies for achieving these objectives.

The accomplishment of the first stage of the planning process from the research stage, through the recommendations of the Planning Task Force to Timberland Board, to Board action on those recommendations, should prepare District decision makers for the further task of examining issues relating to Timberland's structure and governance.

At the time of Timberland's formation, libraries in contract cities provided the immediate physical means for the newly formed district to make service available to its residents. The cities that cooperated with Timberland certainly recognized the benefit of joining the district and probably did not find it necessary to have complicated contracts that clearly defined their rights and

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responsibilities. However, over the years there developed numerous

questions about building maintenance and operating costs. Many

contract cities began to feel that Timberland should share the cost

of operating physical facilities. The District successfully

avoided providing building support but in many cases the fa~ilities

suffered by being only marginally maintained.

Timberland officials should recognize that more carefully

written contracts must be developed in order to avoid serious

facilities maintenance arguments in the future. The District must

work with member cities in establishing comprehensive contract

language relative to library buildings and building support. This •

may require that Timberland agree to some some level of financial

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participation in the future. However, as long as the relationship

between the cities and Timberland is merely contractual, and

mechanisms exist for cities to withdraw from the district, such

direct support is unlikely.

Another concern of contracting cities is the formula used

for establishing annual city contract fees. This is an issue that

should be discussed with representatives from the seven cities that

have not annexed to Timberland. It is apparent that many city

officials do not understand the District's contract fee formula;

others understand the formula but resent Timberland's requirement

that it be universally applied. The Timberland Board would do well

to review all possible city contract fee alternatives in order to

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avoid discontinuing services to a city unable to pay its required

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annual fee. The withdrawal of a contract city, or cities, from

Timberland would make service to rural populations difficult in

many areas.

There is no contract fee disagreement in cities that have

annexed to Timberland and become an integral part of the district.

Unfortunately, the argument that Timberland should contribute to

the day to day operating costs of library buildings in these cities

is very persuasive. The District Board of Trustees has avoided

payment of such costs, usually arguing that there is no legal

basis for supporting city owned buildings. The question has not

been tested in court; but Timberland probably is in a weak *

position. The District Board must cooperate with officials from

annexed cities in developing a mutually acceptable solution to the

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building support problem as it presents itself in annexed cities.

Establishing a cooperative environment for city/district

discussions will be particularly important if cities begin to

experience a recurrence of the financial problems of the late

1970's and early 1980's.

A final structural issue relates to financing library

building construction in annexed cities. Officials in a number of

cities have suggested that Timberland is partly, or wholly,

responsible for construction costs of new facilities in annexed

cities and towns. There has been no building project requiring

open discussion of the matter; but this capital financing issue may

be the most difficult Timberland faces in the future.

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Timberland does not have the means of funding a major building project without issuing General Obligation Bonds. Issuing such bonds would require a favorable vote by the residents of the entire Timberland service area. This includes all voters in the unincorporated areas of the District as well as voters in annexed cities and towns. Contract cities are not an integral part of the District. Approval would be difficult to obtain for a project benefitting (directly) only a small portion of the five county region.

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A number of changes must occur before Timberland can agree to undertake city library building projects. The most important would be: 1) deletion of the R.C.W. provision allowing annexed cities to withdraw from their parent districts and; 2) implementation of legislation allowing Inter-County Rural Library Districts the power to establish Local Improvement Districts and issue Bonds for such districts. Such legislative changes are not easily accomplished. They require the type of broad statewide support that begins at the grassroots level.

The first step in encouraging the popular support for legislation benefitting the Timberland Regional Library, and district libraries in general, is solving the problems related to library governance. It is not clear to the public how District Library Boards function. Further, City Library Boards, both in contracting and annexed municipalities, are not certain of their relationship to the Timberland Board. Clear and complete

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definition of these Boards and their respective responsibilities is

most important.

When the Timberland Library first was established, the

Regional Board of Trustees was responsible for providing library

service to the citizens of the unincorporated areas of the

District's five member counties. This responsibility included

furnishing staff, materials, and facilities to rural residents.

City Library Boards had similar responsibilities to their

populations. Most City Library Boards in the Timberland service

area opted to contract with the larger District when it was

established. Participation in the Timberland system relieved them "

of the problems of providing adequate staff and materials.

Unfortunately, many library boards came to be viewed merely as

caretakers of library buildings. They were seen to have the

responsibility for building upkeep but little else. In time, even

city contract fee discussions became an administrative task

accomplished by through correspondence between Timberland

administrators and City officials.

The relationship of the Timberland Board to Local Boards,

and the powers of those respective bodies. did not seem important

until the late in the 1970's. At that time, cities threatened to

discontinue contracting with the Regional Library system because

they were experiencing financial problems. As discussion between

the library district and various cities progressed, it became

apparent that a key element in intergovernmental relationships had

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been overlooked; there had been little or no formal communication between Timberland and its cities.

During the late 1970's and into the early 1980's there were numerous meetings of City and Timberland representatives. New lines of communication began to form, and a definition of the relationship of Timberland to participating cities began to emerge. Unfortunately, a clear definition of those relations had not been been accomplished before a change in the statutes allowing citie s to annex to library district was enacted and twelve of the nineteen contracting cities voted themselves into Timberland.

The annexation of the contract cities solved a number of financial issues, calmed a tense situation, and left the overall question of library governance on hold. Officials in many annexed cities have reached a point where they no longer agree that a local library board is important. They are willing to place the entire responsibility of library governance in the hands of the Regional Board. This is neither practical nor desirable.

It is important that local library boards continue to work toward defining and fulfilling the library needs of their constituents. These boards must serve as the link between city residents and the District Board of Trustees. They must provide the Timberland Trustees with the facts necessary for informed decision making. The annexations of the early 1980's did not lessen the need for such input; they made it more critical. The library system is much more complex that it was in the past and

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it requires broad representation from all areas. Each community has its own uniqueness and its own Ln fo rma t f.ona L requirements. Local boards relate these requirements to the larger regional body.

In the next few years the Timberland Regional Library will develop and implement service plans for the future. This planning will require that the library district cut back to service levels that will be affordable through the balance of the 1980's. The planning will require a high level Of cooperation between library and city officials. The library needs of rural and city residents alike will require careful interpretation. This cannot be accomplished unless there are strong city library boards ready to represent their constituents to the larger Timberland system. Working together in a spirit of continued cooperation, city and district officials can assure the future of excellent library service in the five county area.

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