Calloway County’s Judge Executive says he is hoping to put an end to matters involving the local library board with the appointment of two individuals. Judge Larry Elkins and the board have had a prolonged dispute over a proposed library expansion and other financial issues.
“Our little dispute’s been going on since last July and I’m sure all of us would like to put an end to it,” Elkins said.
Elkins appointed to the board in a fiscal court meeting Tuesday night Jeff Gentry and Larry Tucker. The magistrates unanimously approved the appointments.
Both candidates were on a Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives-approved list for consideration along with Audrey Neal and Anne Newberry. In a letter, library board chairman Ricky Lamkin outlined that Tucker and Gentry were the lowest-rated candidates, respectively. The letter, however, suggested pairing either of them with the higher-rated candidates for approval.
Lamkin said in a follow-up, “We will be glad to work with Mr. Gentry and Mr. Tucker just as we would be glad to work with any other trustee appointed.”
Elkins’ office prepared questionnaires for the candidates, which he had required prior to approval. Elkins said the other two candidates (Neal and Newberry) did not initially return their questionnaires. Lamkin said, however, that in Neal had told him she had sent in her application. He also said these forms are not sent by the library as they don’t determine the library’s selection and don’t go to the KDLA. (Update Note: See Audrey Neal's comments in the Disqus section below the article regarding the questionnaire.)
The questions center on awareness of library financial issues, the use of tax dollars and support for an expansion. Example: “Will you commit to opposing any effort to raise the library taxing district’s tax rate during your tenure on the board if you are appointed?”
The questionnaires for the two appointed were included in the fiscal court packet. Jeff Gentry said he was not familiar with the financial status or budget prior to the past year. He said he didn’t want to borrow more money for a library expansion and did not favor a tax increase. “Murray/ Calloway does not need an 8 million dollar library,” he wrote, and said the library can already do a lot with $1.5 million in existing funds. Larry Tucker generally opposed increasing taxes to fund an expansion and said such expansion would increase operating costs. He said $2 million would be the maximum that should go towards an expansion, but wrote “I do not think they should use all their building fund on an expansion.”
(More on the expansion below)
Elkins said, “The key issue, and I won’t pull any punches, anyone who comes before - and I’m not going to speak for anyone but myself - since 2011 - the library taxing district has collected between seven and eight million dollars in property taxes. It’s not about any individual short of an assurance from respective members that they won’t raise taxes unless absolutely necessary or promise not to incur long term debt for an expansion that is very likely that that appointment will be made."
After the meeting, Elkins said, “I made my position as clear as I could and I think the fiscal court by their actions the last few months agree that we think that the library’s tax rates are high enough and they have enough money to do what they need to do.”
There is another library board opening that may be considered in the July fiscal court meeting. Elkins said he encourages other applicants to reapply for the newly opened seat.
Lamkin asked if the fiscal court would reconsider Ann Landini, whom Elkins put forth in a fiscal court meeting in April, but failed to get acceptance from the magistrates. Elkins said, “Her questionnaire was not consistent with what I’m looking for… I don’t want to be ugly, but we were elected to these positions. Read the Kentucky constitution. We make decisions all the time, most of them some people like and some people don’t. But I don’t know how much clearer I can say it… The magistrates, it’s their duty to approve my appointments - or disapprove. If anybody out there wants to be made out there, be mad at me. ”
Noting a list of credit card statements over the past several years, Elkins said “Some of the things that I saw, to be kind, were not consistent with my experience in the use of public funds.” After the meeting, he declined to specify what in the statements were ‘not consistent’ and said “I’ll bring those up at the appropriate time.”
WKMS has a copy of these statements has has inquired about several of the items with library director Mignon Pittman. For example, payments to a tanning salon may seem unusual for a library, however Pittman has said the salon owns a rental storage unit, which the library uses to house materials.
Lamkin said the board of trustees had not seen the monthly credit card statements until this past January. He said the board has since made a policy to be provided copies of these to improve due diligence. He noted Starbucks expenses as an example of what might be considered questionable. Pittman has said those could either be in the context of a breakfast or networking at conferences. Lamkin said there is a longstanding policy for reimbursement for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “From my perspective, if you’re having breakfast, you have your Starbucks if that’s where you’re having breakfast. But if you’re getting a beverage in the middle of the day, to me anyway, that’s not breakfast, that’s not lunch and that’s not dinner. That’s excessive.” He said the board may review this policy and a mileage reimbursement policy.
Library board chairman Ricky Lamkin said, “There are some exciting days ahead for our library, Judge.”
As for a library expansion, Lamkin said there is $2.5 million in an account for capital construction and an additional sum of money kept in an account, some of which may be used for construction. “The board is very interested in getting underway on an expansion and a renovation of our public library and that will be sooner rather than later,” he said, adding, “I don’t know why we couldn’t start an expansion in a few months.”
He said Elkins would be watching what the library does on this matter very closely. “His primary interest is there not being any debt incurred in the expansion or renovation of the library. And, quite frankly, I don’t think there’s going to have to be if we add five or six thousand square feet and renovate the 12,078 square feet that we have,” Lamkin said. He also noted Elkins’ concern over raising taxes. “Other than the compensating rate, which is a formula that is calculated by the KDLA and the Department of Revenue annually that tells us and all other areas of local government with tax revenue what amount increase there would be to stay where you were the previous year. And that’s the only increases there’s been since I’ve been on the board in six years and I anticipate there won’t be any more increases.” Lamkin said.
“We need more space, We need a better library. That’s going to involve the renovation of what have. If the better practice would be to go ahead an add 5,000 or so square feet and pay for it with the moneys we have and what moneys remain, which would be a significant sum of money, we can look at how we can look at how we can renovate our existing building and then we will know what revenues that we have annually, that it set aside for capital construction,” he said.
The 2016-17 budget included $250,000 to be added for capital construction, according to Lamkin. As the fiscal year comes to an end, they will identify how much of that money remains to go into the construction account and will plan accordingly for the next fiscal year budget. He said the board is also formulating a capital construction campaign in hopes that members of the community and local businesses will help. He also said they are looking for individuals who can write grant applications for the library to offset the cost of an expansion.