Talent enacts library surcharge

TALENT — The City Council Wednesday unanimously passed a utility surcharge — $1.25 to $1.50 a month per household — to open its library 40 hours a week instead of the 16 in the county's proposal to privatize all libraries.

The ordinance becomes effective in 30 days, and the council hopes to open the library soon after, said Mayor Don Steyskal. The exact surcharge rate will be set at the next council meeting. No public opposition surfaced at the meeting.

Library backers, in interviews after the vote, were delighted.

"I'm so excited and ready to get started doing programs, getting kids in the library and doing things for the community," said Patricia Remencuis, president of Friends of the Talent Library. "I'm so impressed with this City Council."

Former branch supervisor Laurel Prchal said that after the Jackson County Board of Commissioners votes on the privatization contract next Wednesday morning, LSSI (Library Systems and Services of Maryland) will meet that afternoon with laid-off library workers and schedule interviews for rehiring.

"It only makes sense to hire back the people they had before," said Prchal, who will seek her old job.

Former county library officer and FOTL member Anne Billeter said, "We're thrilled we have a community, council and city staff that recognize the value of a public library in our community."

In talks with the county, Billeter said she learned that LSSI wants to get the system up as soon as possible after the contract is signed and "they are interested in hiring back experienced people to do that."

Benefits will be smaller but pay will be comparable to rates before the April 6 closure of the county's 15 libraries. Hours proposed to the council by FOTL include a couple of late closings and some Saturday hours, so as to serve working adults. The tentative schedule is 12-8 Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10-6 Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and closed Sundays and Mondays.

The council passed the matter quickly, with no dissent and little debate, Mayor Steyskal noting he was pleased with the Tuesday passage of the Ashland property tax levy, "but ours is a little bit better."

During the past six months of "absolutely frustrating limbo," said Prchal, library backers who demonstrated weekly on the city hall lawn heard not one "curmudgeon" oppose the surcharge, which was originally proposed four months ago.

The surcharge and opening of the Talent library hinge on approval of the contract with LSSI, said Steyskal and if that breaks down in the coming week, the surcharge will be completely reevaluated.

Before the county privatization proposal, the council had approved a public vote on a much higher surcharge.

The surcharge is for the life of the LSSI contract, which is expected to be replaced in two years by a county-wide library district, with independent power to tax and fund all branches. It is expected to face a public vote next year.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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