The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 19, 2013

Future of Seneca library still uncertain

By Ryan Richardson

NEOSHO, Mo. — With a June 30 deadline looming for the Seneca public library, board members of the Neosho-Newton County Library may be warming up to the Seneca branch staying open despite funding issues for the entire library system.

Josh Dodson, president of the Seneca Chamber of Commerce, said the Seneca library committee has researched ways to fund the $10,000 that the board had recommended for the library’s summer reading program, computer upgrades and a dedicated early literacy computer. During Tuesday’s board meeting, Dodson outlined the beginnings of the fundraising efforts.

“We are ready to set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for donations towards the Seneca library that would be handled independently of the library system,” he said. “We’ve already got people asking to donate to keep the doors open there. People realize what the branch closing would mean to the community, and we are looking for positives for the community. We want to tell them that we will be open after June.”

The library originally was scheduled to close on Nov. 1 after Newton County voters last year defeated a ballot issue to increase the countywide levy for the library from 10 cents to 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Approval would have increased the county library’s budget by about $800,000 annually.

Phyllis Blackwood, a board member, said she was frustrated to find out what the tax would have meant and that she would have paid about $30 per year under the levy increase.

“It rips me apart to find that we could have paid $30, and we wouldn’t be worrying about closing a branch and having bad feelings between the cities,” Blackwood said. “This isn’t a Seneca versus Neosho issue though, and it never has been.”

Blackwood said the board is looking to work with the state librarian during a strategic planning meeting in March.

“We’ve got poor conditions at this branch, too, and we have to look at where we go from here,” she said. “We need to still strategically plan and figure out where we go from here for the entire system.”

Suzanne Brown, another board member, said the board’s initial move to close the Seneca library was not in the best interests of the county’s residents.

“The state statutes say that we need to serve the whole county, yet we still have nothing on the east side of the county,” Brown said. “Instead of pulling everything in and trying to insulate Neosho, we need to find a way to serve everyone.”

After the meeting, Dodson said the board’s discussion gave him an optimistic outlook on the library’s future.

“I feel more confident now, but I know that there is still work to be done,” Dodson said. “This is more promising to see the overwhelming support from Seneca and to know that public interest does matter when they speak out.”

Looking for a solution

A PETITION DRIVE, initiated by the Seneca Chamber of Commerce, collected 2,100 signatures that resulted in the library board voting to allow the organizers until June 30 to find a financing solution for the Seneca branch.