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Monett library building project is now on hold

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For the past three years, plans have been in front of the public to build a new 13,520-square-foot Monett library branch building. A reduction in the district property tax levy and the economic downtown have stalled but not stopped the project.

Jean Berg, retiring director of the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library, said the legislation passed in 2008 that defined the district's property tax cut revenue by about $300,000 a year.

"We have been able to maintain services, hours and staffing for the time being," Berg said. "It's hurt the Monett project."

The library board had budgeted for capital improvements annually and set aside money for the Monett building. For the past two years, all available funds have gone into services.

At the present time, donations and funds placed in a separate construction fund for Monett total $723,053. Another $300,000 has been pledged by EFCO, a Pella company, and Jack Henry and Associates. Berg said it will take another $1 million to cover the cost of the project.

If the tax levy had stayed the same, Berg said the district would have had no problem financing the additional debt and making payments. Without it, the Monett project has been shelved.

The debt remaining on the new Marionville and Cassville branches has been consolidated for a total of around $200,000. The board makes payments of approximately $78,000 a year and last year was about to make an extra lease purchase payment of $130,969.

At the present rate, Berg said the board will pay off the other two branches in March 2015. At that time, money would be available to move ahead with building a new Monett branch. The only alternative Berg saw was raising another $1 million prior to that.

"The board has been very cautious," Berg said. "We don't want to get in trouble. We can manage with the income we have."

As the library transitions to a new director, Berg said the board has been frank in stating the Monett operation presents the biggest challenge.

"We have no space," Berg said. "We have to use our community room for an office for our technology services person as well as for programming. For the summer reading program, we've had to have the children all sit around in the children's room. It's the only choice we had."

To expand the number of public access computers from six to nine, new laptop computers are being placed on the end of shelves and "anywhere we can get a power connection," Berg said.

Computer service has become increasingly popular throughout the system. During the 2010-11 fiscal year, 80,879 customers used public access computers system wide, an increase of 10.5 percent over the previous year.

A new section of shelves has been sandwiched into the reading area for the overflow from the mysteries and the teen books. Berg said the work area for staff is crowded and makes it harder to hire staff.

The district expects to grow into electronic books in the foreseeable future. Berg said tight finances have stalled that process as well. An initial $7,400 sign-up charge with MLink would be required, plus additional licensing costs. Available books are not compatible with the Kindle readers, which presents other problems.

"We're not ready to do electronic books yet," Berg said. "We need to get into that and wireless access. We're trying to keep up."

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