The Neosho / Newton County Library has a reserve fund of about 80 percent of its yearly operating budget, a group wishing to save the Seneca branch of the library contends.

Josh Dodson, spokesman for a group of Seneca residents interested in keeping that branch of the library open, addressed the library board Tuesday afternoon. In a nearly two-page prepared statement, Dodson contended that while the library's annual operating budget for both branches was about $750,000, the board had $583,000 in reserves, not counting approximately $364,000 in operating funds for the rest of the fiscal year. This reserve fund represents about 80 percent of the annual budget.

However, Dodson told the board, officials with the state auditor's office have indicated that public bodies "should not have a reserve fund in excess of 25 to 30 percent of their annual budget."

"While this is not mandated by state statute, we were told that their audit procedures would require the board to have a plan in place and voted on by the board, explaining what they intend to so with funds in excess of this amount," Dodson wrote in his statement, which he read aloud during the meeting Tuesday. "Absent a plan for how the money was going to be spent, they said that a good case could be made that the current operating levy should be rolled back since it is actually increasing a reserve fund rather than being spent on services to constituents."
But, Dodson said, no one is requesting the operating levy be rolled back.

"Instead, we would like to see part of the excess reserve funds be spent to maintain current operations at both the Neosho and Seneca branch facilities," he wrote. "All of us understand and agree that the library has a responsibility to pass balanced budgets and to be financially prudent. However, the board also has a responsibility to provide services with the money paid by taxpayers. We would submit that the board should reevaluate next year's operating budget and use a small portion of the excess reserve fund to ensure that services are not negatively affected at either branch. We would also recommend that the board come up with a plan for the reserve fund and engage in strategic planning to meet the challenges of the coming years. To that end, we would like to be a part of discussions as to how we can keep the Neosho / Newton County library system viable for the long-term future."

Last month, the library board voted to reduce hours at both the Seneca and Neosho locations effective Jan. 1.

The library board voted in September 2012 to close the Seneca library branch due to budget constraints, however, that decision changed in the following month's meeting, when they opted to give the branch six months into 2013, at which time a group of Seneca area residents began working to raise money for the library.

The board then voted in March to give the library until the end of 2013.

"There is a real fear among the citizens that reduced operating hours will cause usage of the branch to decline, which could then prompt a decision to justify closing the facility altogether," Dodson wrote. "While we don't believe that this is the intent of the board at this time, this is a real concern to many people. Even though the board has made the commitment, at this time, to keep the branch open, it was also stated at the last board meeting that ultimately the librarian is responsible for staffing decisions. This implies that the librarian, independent of the board, could make the decision to close the branch. This is a big concern for those of us in Seneca."

In opening his remarks, Dodson said it was the group's intention to work together with the library board instead of being at odds. However, Dodson's remarks to the board were met with silence, as no discussion occurred.

Seneca's library was formed in 1934 and merged with the Neosho / Newton County system in 1956. Dodson said the Seneca branch played a vital role in that community, as it provided services for students who did not have Internet access at home and to seniors who lacked transportation to go to the Neosho library.