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  Comments (4) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
Whitefish Library to Break Away from County
Council votes to terminate agreement
The Whitefish Library is considering breaking away from the Flathead County Library system. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Armed with donation pledges, the Whitefish library is officially severing its ties with the Flathead County Library System.

On Oct. 18, the Whitefish City Council voted to notify the Flathead County Library Board of Trustees that it intends to terminate its interlocal agreement and establish a separate tax-supported city library. Termination will be effective July 1, 2011.

The decision came on the heels of a final opinion from the state attorney general’s office stating that Whitefish can legally create an independent library and collect a mill levy to fund it. The city will levy 5.95 mills, replacing the county levy for library services.

In addition, Whitefish resident Jake Heckathorn has offered $100,000 to help establish a separate library and indicated that he knows of another person willing to donate $100,000. The Whitefish Library Association has also pledged to contribute funds.

The split comes after more than a year of publicized disagreements between Flathead County library officials and advocates of an autonomous Whitefish library. The county library system has a main branch in Kalispell, and other branches in Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Marion.

Whitefish proponents, including former library board members, claim that county administrators are diminishing the individuality of the branches through centralized governance. They have also made accusations of mismanagement. The board of trustees and library director dispute those claims.

While the city owns the library building, the county owns most of the materials inside. An Oct. 2009 report given to city officials by the library board of officials notes that the county owns nearly 45,000 items housed in the Whitefish branch. All equipment, the report states, is county-owned, including computers, software and printers.

Last fall, the notion of a separate Whitefish library began picking up steam, led in part by former board members Anne Moran and Jerry Hanson. Since then, the issue has made its way through an ad-hoc committee, various steps of local government consideration and the attorney general’s office.

But dating back well before last fall, Moran and Hanson, as board members, had indicated differences in opinions for how the county library system is operated.

At a board meeting in the summer of 2008, Hanson warned against giving too much attention to the main Kalispell library and not enough to the satellite branches. At the same meeting, Moran called for retaining the uniqueness of each individual branch.

Hanson’s comments came at a time when administrators were seeking a new home for the overcrowded Kalispell facility, after the board had voted 3-2 the previous December not to move into the abandoned Tidyman’s location, which today is Super 1. Hanson, Moran and Kala Lougheed voted against the move, citing financial and environmental reasons.

After serving their terms on the board, Hanson and Moran helped spearhead efforts for Whitefish to break away from the county system. An ad-hoc committee was formed, setting in motion the breakaway process.

Then in May of this year, the committee presented a list of reasons the Whitefish branch should become independent, along with a potential budget. Officials from the county library system issued a response that acknowledged tension but called for discussion between the two sides, rather than creating a separate Whitefish library.
On 10-28-10, Whitefish commented....
With that settled, all books, documents, furniture, bookshelves, etc that belong to the tax payers will need to be removed from the Whitefish Library as it all belongs to Flathead County taxpayers.
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