Riverside's board received public input from a standing-room-only crowd on the possibility of closing its Benton branch during its regular meeting Thursday.
Linda Sebaugh opened the meeting by advising she became chair for the board last month. She then asked to hear comments from those filling the Benton branch's meeting room.
Cathy Scherer said she has a petition to keep the Benton branch open that has 232 names from around the county. "There are people with Sikeston addresses, Chaffee address," she said. "It's very widespread."
Closing the Benton branch to open a branch in the Sikeston-Miner area would only leave a new group of taxpayers unserved by the district, she pointed out: "I use this library a lot and it's very convenient."
Scherer added, "We are the county seat and I think that should carry some importance."
Riverside's board members declined to confirm the possibility of opening a branch at the Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores mall, but Sebaugh later said "the only way we can afford to open another branch is to close another branch."
Asked why it would have to be the Benton branch picked to be closed, it was explained that the Oran only has a $1 per year rent.
Sebaugh cautioned, "Don't think the decision (to close a branch) has been made. We're getting input from you."
Tina Scherer said she has a petition with 777 signatures opposed to closing the Benton branch and that she sees constant use of the library.
Several people in the room said they use the Benton branch frequently but would not use other branches. "Can't afford to - gas is too high," said one.
"My students come here all the time," said Sabrina Pobst, principal of the St. Denis Catholic school. "We don't have the funds for a library."
One person who identified herself as the librarian for a Kelso school said students at her school all go to Riverside's Benton branch for their research.
Many Scott County officials and residents are asking why board members think they need to open a branch in southern Scott County at all.
Scott County Commissioner Jamie Burger said the agreement by which Riverside pays the Sikeston Public Library $15,000 per year in exchange for access to the Sikeston Library for Scott County residents paying taxes to Riverside who live in the R-6 school district works well.
"Right now we're set up to service everybody in Scott County," he said.
The original contract expires Wednesday. Riverside's board members voted to extend the contract for two years with an amendment by which the agreement will be terminated if a Riverside branch is opened in southern Scott County. "So that contract will be sent to Sikeston," Sebaugh said following the meeting.
Sebaugh said that on a personal level, however, it bothered her "to be giving our money to another library. ... Money gets tighter every year."
Riverside receives roughly $45,000 in taxes from Scott County residents living outside Sikeston's city limits but in the R-6 school district. Burger said $15,000 is a bargain for the quality of services those Scott County residents are receiving.
The number of users affected doesn't matter, Burger said, because if even only one resident is within that area, that resident pays taxes and has a right to equitable library access.
As one person quipped in the room quipped, "If it's not broke, don't fix it." "The state library board blessed this contract six years ago," Burger noted.
None of the board members have received any negative feedback about the present arrangement from Scott County residents.
By allocating a share of administrative costs to Scott County, Riverside officials claim Scott County gets more money coming in that its taxpayers contribute to the district although Scott County officials question the figures.
One Benton library user said it just doesn't make sense to open another library five minutes from the Sikeston Public Library while leaving Benton residents without a facility.
Many in the room even said they would be willing to pay user fees just to keep the Benton branch open. "I feel that strongly about keeping out library," said one.
After hearing around a half-dozen last comments, Sebaugh closed the public discussion. "I think we understand that you want to keep your library," she concluded.