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Timberland Library board puts branch-closing capital facilities proposal on hold

After two hours of discussion and public comment, the seven-member board that serves Timberland Regional Library voted unanimously Wednesday to hit pause on a branch-closing capital facilities proposal until next August.
After two hours of discussion and public comment, the seven-member board that serves Timberland Regional Library voted unanimously Wednesday to hit pause on a branch-closing capital facilities proposal until next August. Rolf Boone

After two hours of discussion and public comment Wednesday evening, the seven-member board that runs the Timberland Regional Library system voted unanimously to put a branch-closing capital facilities proposal on hold.

The motion that was approved by the board also calls for the creation of a committee to drill down on the details of the proposal and come up with specific line-by-line decisions.

More than 50 people attended the meeting to oppose the capital facilities plan.

The five-county library system released the proposal in late September, outlining sweeping changes in operations, including the closure of rural library branches to cut costs. The cuts and closures were proposed because Timberland faces $700,000 budget deficits in 2019 and 2020. System revenues are falling, but expenses rise in the form of salaries and benefits.

Board member Joe Wheeler said the committee needs “to explore what is appropriate to do in terms of solving the financial issue.”

Although the board put closing branches on hold, they did leave the door open to possible cuts to library hours and staff before Aug. 1, when it will reconsider a variation of the proposal.

The three members of the board who make up the capital facilities committee — Brenda Hirschi, Corby Varness and Brian Zylstra — met last week and agreed the proposal needed to be rejected.

Varness reiterated their position to the entire board Wednesday night.

“Reject the proposal as it stands and use it as a background document to create a new plan,” she said.

But two board members — Wheeler and Jenna Noll — said they weren’t ready to reject the proposal. Noll said there were ideas worth exploring in the plan and Wheeler said the board needed to do more than just reject it.

“If we say no tonight, we haven’t solved anything,” he said.

Noll also pointed out that when the library system turned 50, she traveled to 11 branches and learned some had no patrons, she said.

The average use of the library is down, Wheeler said, so he urged the people who gathered for the meeting at the Tumwater service center Wednesday night to use their library and drive those numbers higher.

He also asked for specific ideas to help the library system, saying it wasn’t enough for people in the community to simply say “think outside the box, find some other solution, do something else.”

Before they voted, the board heard from about a dozen library patrons during public comment. No one expressed support for the capital facilities proposal. Among them was Jasmine Dickhoff, the mayor of Hoquiam, which would see its library close under the plan.

Dickhoff called the proposal an insult because Hoquiam has spent more than $1 million to restore its Carnegie library building.

“I’m saddened and appalled to even be having this discussion,” said Susan Barrett of Tenino, another city slated to lose its library under the proposal. She said the library in a rural town is the “center of town,” a place where rural people “want it, need it, appreciate it and get value out of it.”

Chris Thomas of Montesano said he and his children use the library weekly.

“The physical place is valuable,” he said. “You can’t lose sight of those physical places.”

He added: “I believe every single one should be kept open.”

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