City council OKs district library agreement 2014.11.26

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci city council members voted unanimously Monday night to join with the Morenci Board of Education and form the Stair District Library. At the end of the year, the City of Morenci would transfer the contents of the library to the new district board and lease the building for $1 a year.

The Morenci Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its Dec. 1 meeting.

The agreement accepted by the city also includes the appointment of three district library board members: city council member Brenda Spiess through 2015, and current Stair board members Kym Ries through 2016 and Sally Kruger through 2017.

During a committee meeting preceding the regular meeting, library director Colleen Leddy reiterated her opposition to having a council member serve as a library board member, but mayor Bill Foster said that as long as the city has an interest in the library, a council member will remain on the board. That practice began in 2012.

Several council members said they were not completely happy with the agreement. They understood that the process had to be rushed in order to beat the expiration of a state law allowing the formation of district libraries along school district boundaries, but they wanted more time to discuss the issue.

Councilor Sean Seger said he would vote in favor of the agreement, but he would like to re-visit the document in the future.

At the heart of council's discomfort is the building lease agreement that calls for the city to maintain plumbing, heating, air conditioning, the electrical system, etc., as well as maintaining the roof, floors, interior and exterior walls. 

The lease begins Dec. 31 and continues for 10 years, upon which time the agreement would be renegotiated. The district library board would have the option of buying the building and handling repairs on its own.

The operation of the district library is contingent upon passage of a 1.15-mill levy by school district voters. If the levy vote were to fail, the library would return to city ownership as it currently exists. If the millage passes, the city would continue its existing financial support of the library for an interim period—$80,000 a year—until levy money started to come in.

Council member Jeff Bell said he whole-heartedly supports the district library approach, but he doesn't favor a lease agreement that forces the city to cover repairs. 

"Any business out there today that’s involved in any type of lease agreement would not even consider entering into an agreement where they’re responsible," he said.

Leddy said she doesn't think the transaction should be viewed as a commercial endeavor, but if council sees it that way, she pointed out how city council works for the benefit of new business and offers tax abatements.

Leddy said when the district library was first discussed with the townships, the city representatives discussed continuing financial support even after a levy were passed. The proposed budget that was used for discussion included the city’s continuing role of maintaining the building.

"I will support it," Seger said. "The overall intent is to keep the library going and I don't want to lose sight of that."

"We can make this work," said city administrator/clerk Michael Sessions.

PERSONNEL—Council voted to hire Fayette paramedic Jeff Hibbard to work for the Morenci Area EMS at a rate of $12.65 an hour. Josh Bentley, who worked for the city during the summer as a grass mower, was hired as an on-call city worker to help with snow removal. He will be paid $13 an hour. This will cover a personnel shortage due to a worker on medical leave.

FURNACE—Council approved the expenditure of one of two library furnaces at a cost of $1,713.50.

HANDBOOK—Council approved changes and clarifications to the personnel handbook. Changes include establishment of a grievance process and  bi-weekly accrual of vacation time rather than on an annual basis.

SURVEYS—Sessions said that at least 100 of the city surveys have been returned. The deadline is Dec. 8. The surveys will be used by the planning commission to help create a master plan.

GUARD—The city is still seeking a crossing guard to work two hours every school day.

WATCH—Audience member Jason Duby asked how to go about starting a Neighborhood Watch group. He was told to contact police chief Michael Cresswell.

HOURS—The DPW will return to five-day weeks for the winter months, but city hall will continue to work four 10-hour days and close on Fridays.