Calloway County judge-executive Larry Elkins and the Calloway County Public Library board are at odds over several issues, including the cost of a future renovation and expansion.
Elkins has slammed the library in several emails over the last few months, criticizing the board for bumping tax rates and calling its nomination process for new members, which is set by the state legislature, “incestuous”.
Elkins, who says he’s a library supporter, has also called an $8 million estimate for a library expansion "ridiculous".
"I do believe with the changes in technology, the way students and others do research on the internet, how citizens get the news, and how people check out books and read, a plan for a new brick and mortar library needs to be considered carefully," Elkins said in one of the emails.
But board member Ryan Alessi says that $8 million figure was just the highest estimate given during an information gathering process.
“That might be the Cadillac, with all the bells and whistles," Alessi said. "We wanted to find out what all was possible first and then scale it back to what we could actually afford with the least debt possible and the most amenities for this community.”
Another estimate was given for a $5.34 million expansion, but Alessi says the library board has not yet voted on any plans and won't for some time as they continue to research the possible expansion.
The library, built in the 1970s, ranks 100th among Kentucky's 120 counties in terms of square feet per capita, according to former board chair Teresa Betts. Alessi says it's also seriously lacking in the number both books and computers on hand.
"Calloway County ranks 97th in the numbers of computer that can be accessed by the public," Alessi said. "We have 13 computers available to the public. That's 97th in the state. One of the judge's arguments is, 'Hey, we might not need as many books now'. I don't agree with that because we have 2.3 books, volumes per person in this county. Marshall County, just up the road, has more than 7 books per person, so I think there's more space needed for books, but regardless, even if you take the judge's argument at its face, this library still needs more space for computers, for people who don't have Internet access at home."
Alessi says higher tax rates were a result of a discrepancy with the state compensating tax rate and that the board has already voted to lower taxes at its August meeting - from 6.4 cents to 5.9 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate taxes. Library taxes on personal property were also reduced from more than 12 cents per $100 to 5.9 cents. UPDATE: The story previously referred to these cents-per-dollar figures as just percentages, which is the what Alessi characterized them as in our interview.
"We recognize that taxes went up when the board did not necessarily intend them to go up," Alessi said. "This notion that the board has continued to raise taxes is absolutely false because the board just voted to significantly reduce them at the August board meeting, so I don't understand why the judge keeps spreading that misinformation. You'd think he'd have a more accurate assessment of what's happening in his own county."
Elkins has also accused the board of improper use of public funds, in trying to, “sway public opinion” with its marketing and public relations.
"That marketing/ad money is and always has been used to run newspaper and television ads and to print schedules to let Calloway County residents know about the outstanding programs the library has, including the Summer Read schedule, story times, book groups, Back to School nights, Community Reads programs that feature authors who come to Calloway County to discuss their books, computer classes, genealogy classes, concerts and many more activities," Alessi said. "It is not and has not been used as any sort of propaganda."
Alessi said he’s been surprised at the judge’s emails because in the past, Elkins has been a strong supporter of the library.
“Including pledging in his 2011 speech about the state of Calloway County that he wants to see a library expansion completed during his time in office," Alessi said. "So that’s, I guess, why it’s all the more baffling that he’s launched this weird smear campaign against the library board. I don’t know, maybe that’s just what happens when you’re in politics as long as he’s been in.”
The board will meet Wednesday afternoon at the library with only four members because Elkins has refused to appoint two new members from a pool of four candidates that were submitted to him earlier this summer.
Elkins did not return multiple requests for comment this week.