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Weber County wrestles with library bond, board expansion

Published September 3, 2013 10:03 pm

Politics • Official defends his push to "unstack" the board.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Weber County's three-member commission opted Tuesday to delay a vote on whether to expand the county's library board of directors from seven members to nine.

Citing concerns about rising interest rates, Commissioner Matt Bell floated the suggestion weeks ago, arousing suspicion in some camps that he intended to stack the board, making it the largest of its kind in the state.

"Maybe I'm trying to unstack the library board a little bit," Bell countered Tuesday.

Bell had openly opposed the $45 million bond to upgrade and expand the countywide library system that voters approved in June by way of a special vote-by-mail election. With 31 percent voter turnout, 54 percent of voters agreed to pay more in property tax to enjoy the benefits of libraries that could serve as gathering spots as well as circulation sites.

Bell, also chairman of the Weber County Republican Party, argued that a significant number of people failed to participate in that election, and those are his constitutents as well. And he worries that interest rates have risen at least one percentage point since voters OK'd the bond.

"I've been to a (library board) meeting. It was a great disucssion on the building plans and everything," Bell said, "but no one is mentioning these costs and what we're going to do about it to protect the taxpayer."

During Tuesday's session, Commissioner Kerry Gibson upbraided Evelyn Bertilson, chairwoman of Weber County's Friends of the Library, for questioning his and Bell's integrity and motives.

"The Friends of the Library are appalled at the lack of respect and trust shown to your fellow commissioner, the library board, let alone the library administration and the public," Bertilson said, noting that these entities worked hard to formulate a library capital improvement plan.

"They have verified the costs and the viability of the plan," — and then acquired public support for it, Bertilson said.

Gibson confronted her when she said there'd been no opportunity to discuss the library plan that he and Bell have in mind.

"You're entitled to your opinion, but you're not entitled to take shots at the integrity of the commission," Gibson told her.

However, Commissioner Jan Zogmaister — who sits on the library board — told Bell that she wished he would explain why the board needs to be bigger.

"Interest rates for libraries have gone up," Bell told her, "and I haven't seen one person on that board address that." The one-percent bump could raise the yearly tax increase on a $161,000 home from $31.50 to $34.50, Bell said, noting that rates continue to climb.

By phone Tuesday afternoon, Bell said there are many pending projects around the county where the expenditure of tax dollars are needed and could be justified.

Weber County Comptroller Dan Olsen said that the county currently has $53 million in outstanding bonds. However, the statutory debt limit would be somewhere near $300 million.

"Legally we have plenty of capacity," Olsen said. "So it's more of a policy issue as to what the commissioners are comfortable with."

Library Director Lynnda Wangsgard said that the board-expansion push had created extra stress at a time when leaders needed to focus on designing the new headquarters library in Roy — a process that normally takes about 18 months but they hope to complete by March 2014.

"We're working in a difficult environment because we don't understand what the constraints are," Wangsgard said. "We're trying to be good stewards of the bond and not make voters feel they've been undercut."

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

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