Moffat County library board votes down privatization plan
The Moffat County Libraries Board of Trustees rejected a plan that would have outsourced library management to an East Coast firm.
After a brief executive session Wednesday May 15, board member Jennifer Riley motioned to cease negotiations with the Maryland-based for-profit management company, Library Services and Systems, LLC.
The Craig Press requested a copy of the firm’s proposed contract with the county-funded library system, but was denied access to the document.
If the contract had been approved, the library system would have been the first in Colorado to shirk county management in favor of the East Coast company.
The 38-year-old business is the largest outsourcing library business in the United States with over 80 managed locations in states including Texas, California, Oregon and Tennessee, according to the company’s website. LS&S has yet to seal a deal on any library contract in Colorado.
During the public portion of the meeting, resident Ken Wergin asked the board why they voted down the contract, though board members declined to elaborate based on legal advice.
“I will gladly follow the advice of our attorney,” Board Chairman Alman Nicodemus said. “So, we won’t discuss that.”
Earlier in the week, three top LS&S executives visited Craig to meet with the library board to pitch their management plan. Moffat County Commissioner Donald Broom and library patron Jan Rogers were also in attendance.
The library system is at risk of running out of money and closing its doors if additional local funding doesn’t present itself. LS&S COO Todd Frager said Moffat County’s situation appealed to him emotionally.
“We’re here because we’re really committed to libraries,” Frager said. “A deal like this, for us, kind of hits our soft spot. For us, when we hear, ‘library possibly closing’ and, ‘lack of funding,’ we’re suckers for that stuff.”
In recent months, all three county libraries — Dinosaur, Maybell and Craig — made drastic cutbacks to library hours, staff and programming to stay afloat. A November 2018 ballot measure to fund the program through a mill levy tax increase was combined with an effort to provide additional funding for the Museum of Northwest Colorado, but the proposal was ultimately rejected by voters.
LS&S officials advised the library board to seek campaign consulting guidance from Denver-based EIS Solutions for another mill levy tax ballot measure to possibly take place in November.
“The biggest thing in all of this is to talk about how to win the tax levy in November because that’s critical,” LS&S CEO Greg Toth said.
By working with a consulting firm, Toth said LS&S would be better able to gauge what went wrong during the last failed ballot measure and what to do differently this fall.
Resident Rogers said the community didn’t vote down the ballot measure because they don’t support the libraries.
“One city councilman said there’s no point in the city trying to support the library because people don’t want to pay more taxes, but that’s not what I heard,” Rogers said. “The main comment was that people were angry that the city and the county aren’t stepping up and doing their job. We’re voting against it because we want them to step up and allocate their money.”
LS&S presented a slideshow presentation touting happy customer reviews and statistics in comparable markets of Redding, California; Moorpark, California; Leander, Texas; and Red Oak, Texas.
Although Red Oak’s population is comparable to Craig’s, hovering around 10,000, it is a part of the growing 6.8 million strong population of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area — the seventh largest metro area in the United States.
LS&S officials told the board they could improve the number of people utilizing the library, checking out books, increase library programming and buy books in bulk at a lower cost.
After the meeting, Library Director Sherry Sampson told the board she could implement the same programs cited by LS&S if the libraries received increased local funding and returned to previous staffing levels.
Some library board members vocalized lingering questions and a need for additional time to review materials Monday.
“We still want to be cognizant of what we’re getting into here,” Nicodemus said.
Riley likewise raised a number of concerns.
“I think there’s always a tremendous amount of mistrust in a management company,” she said. “Outsourcing is outsourcing. I’m just skeptical — they don’t operate in Colorado yet and we’d be their first library. I’m just skeptical, I’m not there.”
As the library board continues to look for funding solutions, at least one Moffat County Commissioner has voiced his support for the library.
“I guarantee we’ll do the best we can do to keep those (libraries) going because they’re important to me too,” Broom said. “I have two kids of my own who use the library at Maybell. To me it’s a very important thing and I’m for that.”
The Moffat County Libraries Board of Trustees’ next public meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, June 10, at the Craig branch, 570 Green St.