Whitefish Takes Early Steps Toward Independent Library

By Beacon Staff

The Whitefish Community Library is gradually becoming a reality, though many unanswered questions remain. Chief among those questions is how to stock the new library with materials, from books to computers to furniture.

Last October, the Whitefish City Council voted to break away from the Flathead County Library System and form its own property tax-supported independent library. Since then, a fledgling board of trustees has been meeting to hammer out basic protocol, including bylaws and a library director job description.

Additionally, city officials are negotiating with Flathead County Library System representatives to decide the future of materials currently residing in the Whitefish library. The county has indicated it owns close to 45,000 items in the building.

The city needs to figure out how many of those items it can procure and how many it needs to find elsewhere in order to fully stock the library before it officially becomes an independent entity on July 1. The city owns the actual property.

City Manager Chuck Stearns said negotiations with the county will ultimately decide “what goes and where it goes.” Stearns is representing the city along with Councilman Phil Mitchell, Mayor Mike Jenson and trustee Michael Collins.

“I think both parties want as smooth of a transition for the patrons as possible,” Stearns said after the most recent meeting on Feb. 3. “The county library system has some logistical issues over if they’re going to move some books, how they’re going to move them. We’re trying to see if there’s an arrangement if all the books can stay.”

On Monday, the city council was expected to vote on a resolution transferring $5,000 from the general fund into the Whitefish Community Library fund to “demonstrate that it will be ‘tax-supported’ once it starts operating,” according to Stearns’ report to council.

Stearns estimates the mill levy to support the community library will be 5.4 mills for fiscal year 2011. Additionally, a group called the Whitefish Library Association has pledged $15,000 every year for five years to help the new library get on its feet. Residents Jake and Connie Heckathorn have said they will contribute $100,000.

The library’s annual budget, Stearns said, will likely be around $140,000.

Negotiations will continue between the city and county. Stearns said a solution must be achieved well before July 1 to ensure sufficient transition time, particularly if materials need to be moved in and out.

“We’ll just keep meeting until we get to an agreement,” Stearns said. “We go one meeting at a time.”

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