By Bradie Jill Jones
EVANSTON — Community input was heard at the Uinta County Commission meeting on June 20, concerning the highly controversial proposed closing of the Mountain View Library.
Eyeing the crowd that had gathered to dispute the closing of the beloved library, commissioner Wendell Fraughton predicated the opening of the public comment section by joking that the wood panel in which the commissioners sat behind was bullet proof.
The discussion opened with descendants of Virginia Davis, the Mountain View resident who originally donated the building to Uinta County, expressing heartfelt concern over what a loss this building would be to the community.
“She would be rolling over in her grave,” said Davis’ granddaughter, Nikki Walker. Davis had specified that the building be used as a community library.
Emotions ran high as community members pleaded with the commissioners to dig a little deeper into the budget for additional funding to save the library. Commissioner Eric South responded saying, “We can’t just pull it out of another pocket — we’ve been doing that for six months.”
This set of cutbacks comes in the wake of a 10-year decline in the oil and gas industry. The Uinta County Library is a quasi-government entity. The county helps fund the library but it does not dictate how the independent foundation operates.
County revenue from property tax is divided into 20 mills annually. The library is allocated one mill of the budget each year. Last year, based on property tax income, that one mill amount equated to $399,009.
For the 2017-18 year, that amount is budgeted to drop to $367,344. These cutbacks have left the library foundation without a way to balance its budget, while still keeping the doors open at all three library branches (Evanston, Lyman and Mountain View).
It is proposed that the building could be used as a public health building in the future. Currently, the public health office is housed in a rented building. Relocating the public health facility to the county-owned library could save the county $700 in monthly rent.
Closure of the Mountain View Library, could potentially save the library $224,000 — saving money mostly on staffing — whereas closing the newer Lyman Library would only save $211,000.
Some were concerned about many demographics in Mountain View, including senior citizens and low-income residents.
“This would be an unfair disadvantage to the poor in our valley” said Kelly Bonner, a local real estate agent. Many told stories of what a safe haven the library is for the children of the Mountain View community.
Uinta Bank President Walter Riebenack said he is concerned about the possible economic effects of the library, stating that community centers such as the library are “the building blocks of economic development.”
South didn’t disagree and later said, “Libraries are the heartbeat of the community.”
The three commissioners sat, intently listening until every opinion in the audience was heard.
“You don’t want to hear this, but you have to,” Commissioner South said. “The library board has worked very hard in coming to us. They have cut and cut and cut.”
There was a general sentiment among the community members that some changes could be made to save the Mountain View Library. Many called for the use of volunteers for staffing, cuts to the hours of operation, and private fundraising.
“We have repeatedly shown what a generous community we are” Bonner said.
No one spoke in favor of the closing — even South expressed reluctance, saying, “Perhaps there are other alternatives.”
The commissioners encouraged the library foundation board to consider the options for operation that were suggested by the community to save the Mountain View library. The conversation was left without conclusion as the meeting adjourned.