MANTI—The Sanpete County Commission has reversed an earlier decision and voted unanimously to pay a bill from the state for approximately $82,000 to maintain bookmobile services in the county.
At a meeting Tuesday, June 7, Commissioner Ed Sunderland proposed the motion to pay the bill, and Commissioner Reed Hatch seconded the motion. Then Commissioner Scott Bartholomew joined the other two in approving the payment.
The action reversed a 2-1 vote on May 18 in which Sunderland and Hatch opposed sending funds from a dedicated library tax to the state, while Bartholomew voted to support the program.
The main factors in the reversal appeared to be finally receiving statistics that showed the bookmobile that serves Sanpete and part of Juab County has the most patronage of any of Utah’s five rural bookmobiles, along with a public outcry against cutting off the mobile library.
“We as commissioners would see a bill for $74,000” (for bookmobile operations) with no explanation of anything,” Commissioner Reed Hatch told state library officials who were at the June 7 commission meeting along with about 40 citizens. In 2021, Hatch said, the commission went ahead and paid the bill.
“This year, the contract comes again. It’s about $74,000, plus $8,000 for books plus another $450 for cell phones,” Hatch said.
He said the bill again raised the question, “What does this money represent? What do we get for it? The agreement that was sent basically said, ‘This is how you pay for it. One or two payments,’ that’s it.”
Cristina Reyes, bookmobile program manager for the Utah State Library Division, said Five bookmobiles, all receiving a mix of federal, state and local support, serve nine rural counties or rural areas within more urbanized counties.
Besides Sanpete, she said, the counties served are Tooele, Utah, Juab, Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Garfield, Kane and Iron counties.
In Sanpete County, Reyes said, the bookmobile travels 800 miles per month and serves 23 stops, including 14 schools with a cumulative enrollment of about 5,500. She said the bookmobile has 8,309 active card holders in the county who are “actually checking in and out materials.”
“I did not know you were not receiving any information about bookmobile usage,” Heidi Fendrick, data coordinator for the state library, told commissioners. She said she would be happy to provide monthly, quarterly and annual reports.
Fendrick said in the 11 months from July 2021 through May 2022, Sanpete public school students and other residents made 39,299 visits to the bookmobile. During those visits they checked out approximately 91,665 items.
“The Sanpete County bookmobile has the highest monthly
and annual circulation of all of
the bookmobiles,” she said.
Reyes, the bookmobile program manager, said that while bookmobile budgets fluctuate from year to year, the total annual cost of the Sanpete County program “is hovering at about $300,000” with funds from within the county covering 25 to 30 percent.
Stacy Lyon, Sanpete County auditor, explained there is a line item for libraries on the property tax bill for every land parcel in the county. Proceeds from the levy in the unincorporated county and in nine municipalities are earmarked for the bookmobile.
Fairview uses collections within its city to support what is known as the Fairview Bookmobile Library, the administrative headquarters for the Sanpete County bookmobile. The library also serves as a brick-and-mortar library for Fairview City residents.
Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim and Gunnison keep the proceeds from properties in their cities to support their brick-and-mortar libraries. Manti, although it also has a city library, continues to support the bookmobile. Library tax collections in nine other municipalities that don’t have libraries go to the bookmobile.
Meanwhile, the North Sanpete and South Sanpete school districts combined contribute approximately $23,000 to the program.
Collections from all of those sources within the county come to just over $105,000.
One of the citizens who spoke at the meeting, who identified herself as a second-grade teacher at Manti Elementary, said electronic reading materials can’t replace physical books, such as are available on the bookmobile.
“The passion, the magic..happens when kids get books in their hands,” she said. “You can’t capture that on a device.” She said some of her students never get a chance to visit the city library and some don’t have Internet at home.
“To be able to have a book, every couple of weeks, that they can keep in their desks and pull out when they have a few minutes or during reading time, they love it. Bookmobile time is one of their favorite times of the week.”
Roqusann Armstrong of Hideaway Valley got a burst of applause when she said, “As far as budgets go, there’s nothing more important to invest in than our future, which is our children.”
Armstrong’s daughter, Lia Brown, 9, read a letter she had written to the commissioners. “I love reading and I can read a 15-chapter book in two days,” she said. “If you take away the bookmobile, I won’t get my books that I love to reorder….Please don’t shut down the library. Please don’t.” She got a loud round of applause.
Another resident said he is the grandfather of a former student, now an adult, who has severe dyslexia. “Because of the (bookmobile) library and being able to get his books on tape, that’s the only way he made it through school,” the grandfather said. He said his grandson is now training to be an electrician.
While approving the bookmobile payment, commissioners said inflation is putting the county in dire financial straits.
The county is not quite midway through its budget year. “We have a Road Department whose fuel budget is gone and a Sheriff’s Office that’s costing another $5,300 per month for gas,” Hatch said.
“I do not want to raise taxes this year because of the inflation that you’re all facing, even though it probably should be done,” Bartholomew said.
Later in the meeting he said, “I’m worried to death to be honest. I don’t know how we’re going to do this…Contrary to popular belief, we do not have a lot of extra funds floating around.”
Lyons, the county auditor, noted that the levy for libraries is earmarked for libraries only. If the bookmobile were cut, the funds could not be transferred to the general fund to support functions such as the Road Department or Sheriff ’s Office. The only way to get more funding to county government would be to raise county property taxes by approximately the amount of the library levy.