Ken Balsley on TRL, take 1

Last year during the levy lid lift election, there was a lot of misinformation cropping up about TRL, how it operates and how it serves its communities. Ken Balsey, blogger, newsletter publisher and radio commenter from Lacey, covers most of the high spots of the debate in a post from January 2009.

This isn’t meant as a tit-for-tat refutation a year late, but just me taking the opportunity to clear up what I know isn’t necessarily accurate about the arguments.

From Ken’s blog:

In some parts of the five-county district, TRL provides buildings in addition to service and staffing. But, in Thurston County, TRL provides only services and staffing. Taxpayers of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater provide their own buildings, but city residents pay the same property tax as does the counties.

It is true that generally cities own the library buildings inside their boundaries, but it isn’t necessarily true that only city taxpayers pay for them. The legislature in the 1990s allowed for the establishment of Library Capital Facility Areas, which could stretch beyond city boundaries, spreading the burden of paying for a new library building to all its potential patrons.

This was exactly the process that was taken for what would have been Olympia’s new library in the late 90s. In that election, the district would have included all of the Olympia school district except from the Steamboat Island area and a couple of neighborhoods in Tumwater.

TRL spends less money on library services in Thurston County than it does in other counties. This seems unfair.

It would be unfair if it were true. It isn’t actually true. TRL actually spends much more in Thurston County on library services than the county taxpayers pay into the system.

The seven-member TRL board is not accountable to the public. They are appointed, by the county commissioners, for a seven-year term (longer than the state supreme court) and cannot be removed except for “just cause.” It is the only non-elected board which has the ability to levy property taxes.

While this is true, it isn’t a TRL policy. This is a state law, so even if Timberland trustees wanted to be elected, we couldn’t unless the legislature changed the law.

Thurston County comprises nearly 60 percent of the total library users, 60 percent of the population and 60 percent of the taxpayers, yet it only has two members on the seven member board. This is unfair representation.

Again, this may be true, but not a TRL policy, but rather a state law. The most trustees we could have is three, and that is if both at large trustees were from Thurston County. That would still be less than 50 percent.

Even if we are unhappy with TRL we cannot withdraw. We are prohibited from doing so, once we have signed on.

Not a TRL policy, a state law. The state actually has a lot of laws regarding the operation of intercounty rural library districts.

TRL operates in a veil of secrecy. It moves its meeting location around the five county area and refuses to have its meetings televised. This seems particularly inappropriate for an agency with a mission of providing public information.

Most local governments that televise their meetings due so through their agreements with local cable providers. Those government channels (Tumwater TV for example) are created through these franchise agreements with cable companies. Since Timberland is a five county organization, it operates in a landscape of varying local cable franchise agreements. It couldn’t just contract with TCTV (in Thurston County) and expect the meetings to be broadcast in Pacific County.

That said, we should be recording our meetings and broadcasting them on the internet.

And, I don’t understand criticism of the board for rotating the location of the meetings throughout the district. All patrons throughout the five county district should have the opportunity to see board meetings.

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2 Comments

Filed under Chat from the community, What I'm reading

2 responses to “Ken Balsley on TRL, take 1

  1. Pingback: Ken Balsley on TRL, take 2 « supports an active, informed community

  2. Pingback: Ken Balsley on Timberland, take 3 « supports an active, informed community

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