Danedri Thompson

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A preliminary proposal for cuts to library services won’t include closing the Edgerton branch of the Johnson County Library.

County library board members discussed several budget cut scenarios suggested by library administrators – all of which included the closure of the Edgerton Bank of Knowledge – during a meeting Feb. 9.

During last month’s meeting, the group debated closing three branches of the Johnson County Library, including Edgerton, and the Cedar Roe and Oak Park branches,  if faced with deep budget cuts in 2013 and 2014, but library administrators offered a new proposal that maintained the Cedar Roe and Oak Park branches.

Despite the low cost of maintaining the Edgerton library, approximately $19,000 per year compared to $605,000 per year at Oak Park and $316,000 at Cedar Roe, the Edgerton Bank of Knowledge remained on the chopping block under a newly-introduced proposal on Feb. 9.

Edgerton residents and extended community members, including former USD 231 superintendent Gary George, made impassioned pleas on behalf of the Edgerton library.

George told members of the library board that the Edgerton Bank of Knowledge was built using volunteers and funded largely through private donations.

“I was one of those who volunteered to shovel out the debris,” George said.

Edgerton is the only county library that was constructed without funds from the county’s library taxes.

“To balance the budget on the back of literacy is not the way to go,” George told board members.

Former Gardner Mayor, Carol Lehman, remembered the day then Edgerton-Mayor Frances Cross, who attended the library board meeting but did not speak, announced that Edgerton was going to find a way to build a library.

“Oh dear,” Lehman said she thought at the time. “They will never be able to pull that off.”

But they did.

“They built their town a library. Edgerton – a town with very few resources – they had a dream and they made it a reality,” Lehman said.

Edgerton’s city administrator, Beth Linn, told the board that in total the 1,671 citizens of Edgerton raised $189,161 to make the dream of a library come true.

Tricia Suellentrop, library administrator, told the board the Edgerton branch is on the chopping block for several reasons. First, she said, the Edgerton library building falls outside of the library board’s standards. It also serves a population smaller than where the board would typically choose to build a new library.

“We look at location – is there a library close?” Suellentrop asked. “Gardner is close to Edgerton.”

Library board members repeatedly said they did not want to close any libraries. However, Kristin Hansen, board member, said the county requested proposals of what the library would cut if faced with deep budgetary constraints in the next two years.

David Lindstrom, county commissioner who serves as a liaison to the library board, said county officials anticipate a drop in the value of Johnson County properties next year. If the mill levy, or tax rate, stays the same, that will translate into less funds in county coffers.

However, he noted that the proposed cuts county administrators are suggesting are much deeper than anticipated.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Lindstrom said.

In the meantime, library board members will send a proposal to the county that contains $19,000 more than the cuts they were asked to provide, because board members requested that funds to maintain Edgerton’s library be included.

“We don’t quite make the numbers, but we’re darn close,” Charley Vogt, library board member, said.

All Johnson County property owners, except those in Olathe, pay a tax rate of 3.145 mills that is dedicated to the county library system. Edgerton property owners pay $72,335 annually towards the county library system.