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District can't afford library costs

FALLS CITY -- The Falls City School Board took the first step in the process of possibly closing Falls City's Wagner Community Library Monday night, approving dates for required public hearings.

Librarian Holly Kraus stocks bookshelves with help from Ryler McDonald, 7, at Falls City Elementary Friday.

Photo by Pete Strong

Librarian Holly Kraus stocks bookshelves with help from Ryler McDonald, 7, at Falls City Elementary Friday.

January 30, 2013

FALLS CITY -- The Falls City School Board took the first step in the process of possibly closing Falls City's Wagner Community Library Monday night, approving dates for required public hearings.

The board set those hearings for March 18 and June 24. Official action to close the library wouldn't take place until after the June hearing. Until then, the closure is just a proposal, but with the district facing a bleak funding picture, there's a strong possibly the public hours at the library would end June 30.

"As much as I love this community ... and want this library to stay, I have a responsibility on this board to make sure we have the funding to educate our children and teachers have everything they need to provide the best education we can provide," said board member Larry Sickles. "That is what is driving it. We can no longer as a school district afford to fund a public library. We just can't do it."

Currently, Wagner is open to the public 20 hours each week. Holly Kraus, Wagner's librarian, splits her time between Wagner and the Falls City Elementary School library, where she works 10 hours. The closure would cut her position from 30 hours to 10. The reduction would save the district $26,942. That is only part of $82,752 in proposed cuts, which also includes eliminating the contract with Polk County for a mental health counselor. The district's 2-year 2012-14 adopted budget was $3.97 million. The board took no action on the other reductions.

The district's local option levy pays for library operations. The levy is experiencing compression -- which occurs when property taxes exceed constitutionally set limits -- causing the district to receive about $20,000 less than anticipated each year.

Bob Young, the board's chairman, encouraged people attending the meeting to brainstorm options to keep the library open.

"We don't want to do this by any stretch of the imagination," Young said. "But when you are looking at our budget, we have to do something. We are willing to listen and talk and figure it out. We've got six months before D-day. Let's do something."

Kraus and a group of citizens have already begun meeting.

"The sooner we can get to work on getting that funding, the better," Kraus said. "We can't wait."

Kraus, who began working in Falls City two years ago, said Wagner is more than a library for the residents who use it regularly.

She said people without computers at home use it to fill out unemployment paperwork and search for jobs. Residents without transportation out of town see the library as a source of entertainment. Without Wagner, parents with young children would have to drive into Dallas for baby/toddler storytimes.

"Even those who never come to the library, when they hear that the library may be closing, they say `We can't lose the library,'" Kraus said. "There's something psychological about having a library in a community that makes it a community."

The committee has already come up with some ideas, including opening a combined art/teen center and library. Another idea is to have volunteers staff the library during hours open to the public.

Kraus said she believes the committee will come up with viable options. She prefers not to consider the other alternative.

"I'm really hoping that we will come up with it," she said. "I would rather not think about the other possibilities. I want to think positive on this and see this through."

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