Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Council OKs additional appropriation for Westchester Library

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The Westchester Township Public Library has requested an additional appropriation from its Library Improvement Reserve Fund (LIRF) for the first time in its history. The request was approved Tuesday by the Porter County Council.

The Council unanimously approved WPL Director Lisa Stamm’s request for approximately $37,000 from LIRF to repair the Baugher Center patio and replace the staff entry doors at the Thomas Branch. LIRF money is WPL’s own money socked away in anticipation of future costly repairs, maintenance, or capital projects over the course of its 47-year history.

The request would have gone before the Council at its June meeting, if not for confusion about whether or not the County Council is indeed the government body required to approve WPL’S additional appropriation from LIRF.

Stamm and County Council Attorney Harold Harper reported the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) requires the County fiscal body to approve additional appropriations for WPL to use those funds because only towns, counties, or the state are mentioned in related Indiana statute--not Townships.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-Large, asked what the request means in the context of HB 1343, new legislation that gives local governing fiscal bodies the option to take oversight over their corresponding libraries’ budgets.

Harper said WPL was formed when Westchester Township’s library merged with the Town of Porter’s library (1972). The County Council would, arguably, not be the funding authority with the power to take oversight over WPL since the County was not involved in its formation, according to Harper’s reading of the new statute.

Likewise, Stamm said her needing Council approval for the additional appropriation does not set a precedent about who would be entitled to that extra oversight over WPL, and that DLGF is in the process of further clarifying the new law.

Whitten, whose wife is the Council’s appointment to the Porter County Library Board, briefly discussed the question of whether or not the Council will take oversight over the PCL at the July Council meeting. He said PCL doesn’t want the Council to take oversight, but he doesn’t see the harm in an extra set of eyes on their budget.

Harper, and County Auditor Vicki Urbanik said the statute is unclear, and DLGF plans to release clarifying documents in January. The new law has a trigger where extra oversight can only be enacted for libraries that carry more than 150% of their operating budgets in cash on-hand and expected revenues. It is unclear as of yet if PCL qualifies.

Before the vote on WPL’s request, Council member Mike Jessen, R-4th, asked how much is saved in WPL’s reserves. Stamm said approximately $8 million. Of the $8 million, between $2 and 3 million are ‘rainy day’ funds, held specifically for emergency capital projects, according to Stamm.

The large amount in LIRF is the result of former Director Phil Baugher and the WPL Board of Trustees budgeting wisely, according to Stamm. Baugher and past WPL boards of trustees were in the habit of making a deposit to LIRF every year and investing to grow the reserves.

Stamm hopes to use more LIRF funds to make much needed improvements to each of WPL’s four buildings going forward. Some of the largest projects on her list are: a new roof at the Baugher Center, a new roof at the Hageman Branch, all new shelving at both Thomas and Hageman, new HVAC at Thomas, and new carpeting.



Posted 8/30/2019




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