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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Libraries close the book on funding agreement

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ron Eifert, assistant director of the Sikeston Public Library, shows the Sikeston Public Library's tax base map.
SIKESTON - An agreement between libraries that once served as a model for the entire state is ending, leaving residents of Miner and Mini Farms out in the cold.

According to Scott County commissioners, the Riverside Regional Library District Board of Directors decided during their most recent meeting not to renew their contract with the Sikeston Public Library. The contract expires Aug. 31.

Under the agreement, the Riverside district paid the Sikeston Library $15,000 per year to provide services to residents outside of Sikeston who live in the Scott County portion of the Sikeston R-6 School District.

This area includes the city of Miner; the Mini Farms, Country Estates, West View, Ridgeview, Holmes and Heckemeyer Acres subdivisions; and rural homes around Sikeston.

Following several months of negotiations with the Riverside board, the Sikeston Public Library Board agreed during their June 6 meeting to delay any decision on their part to allow time for Scott County commissioners to persuade the Riverside board to renew the contract.

"We made an all-out attempt last evening appearing before them to ask them for help and they have rejected our request," Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said Friday. "It would have been a lot easier to just pay the money. We're all very disappointed."

When the contract was first negotiated six years ago, one of the motivating factors was the threat of a lawsuit by the citizens of Miner who allege the Riverside district is collecting their money but not providing any real services to their taxpayers.

The Riverside Regional Library operates three branches in Scott County at Scott City, Oran and Benton. As the branches close at 6 p.m. on weekdays and are only open for four or five hours on Saturdays, students are all but unable to conduct meaningful research at these facilities.

Miner Alderman Justin Medley said during the June 6 meeting that it would definitely be a hardship for Miner's residents if the agreement was not renewed.

"I'm going to have a lot of questions for Riverside," said Ziegenhorn. "What do they do with the $219,000 worth of taxes that they take out of Scott County? I want to know where this money is going. I want an account for the money that comes out of Scott County. We need to know what we're getting back for it."

Library district boundaries were designated by state statute in 1966. "The only way to change them would be through the legislature," Ziegenhorn said. A former state legislator, Ziegenhorn said redrawing library district lines would be a monumental task that would face fierce opposition from those districts that would lose some of their tax base to neighboring districts.

"We didn't want to see our community, and our community includes Sikeston and Miner, divided on this issue," said Bob Depro, chairman of the Sikeston Library's board. "We have done everything humanly possible to get the contract extended."

Depro said Riverside's suggestion that putting a few books at Miner City Hall would address the service issue is not realistic.

According to Don Webb, chairman of the Sikeston Public Library Board's finance committee, the Riverside district collects $19,000 per year from Miner's residents and another $17,000 from Sikeston residents who are in the Riverside Regional Library District.

A total of about $51,000 from R-6 school district residents in Scott County goes to the Riverside Regional Library District, and Scott County residents contributed over $219,000 to the district in 2004.

Sue Tangeman, director of the Sikeston Public Library, noted the Riverside district has no mandate to spend any of that money in Scott County.

"We're not the only area that has this problem," she said, "but it had been resolved between the two library boards and that was the key."

This area was the first to come up with a solution and served as an example for others struggling with similar issues, Tangeman said.

According to the unofficial minutes of the Riverside district's last meeting, board members "discussed several alternative means of better serving the patrons of southern Scott County living outside the boundaries of the Sikeston Public Library."

A motion was unanimously carried by the Riverside board to contact Joel Evans, county developer for Scott County, for recommendations on how to proceed with future improvements to serve the southern Scott County patrons.

Randal Friend, president of the Riverside board, said alternatives are "still in the planning and discussion stages as of now."

Ideas discussed so far include building a branch in the Miner area or finding a new location for a centralized library, Friend said.

What the unserved residents in southern Scott County will do in the meantime "is still being discussed, so really I have no comment on that," Friend said. "This was a board decision not just a county decision. Everything is being looked at to serve the patrons the best we can."