Monday, June 24, 2024

A good library is an asset to the community

| June 4, 2024 7:00 AM

By the time this letter to the editor is printed, the Library District ballot initiative will have passed or failed. I hope it passes, but whatever way it goes, so be it.

Maybe I should have written sooner, but I didn’t. I really don’t know much about the fiscal woes of the library (that’s my wife’s bailiwick) but I think a good library is a valuable asset to any community, big or small. 

Just ask the philanthropic steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Too bad he’s been dead for over a hundred years!

In a recent Letter to the Editor published May 28, the writers from the Yaak voiced their opposition to the “Library Ballot.” It’s their right to voice an opinion, but they lost me by the second paragraph with “Our county has a very limited budget due to frivolous lawsuits collapsing the timber industry.”

Now there’s a mouthful that bears scrutiny. After 50 years of working in forestry or the logging business in one way or another, timber is something I DO know about.

Where to begin? Yes, our timber economy is nothing compared to what it once was. Things arguably started to unravel when Champion International took over and cut until the cheap logs (and profits) were gone, then unloaded the mill to Stimson Lumber, who exited after the billion board foot sweetheart deal with Plum Creek ran out.

With no major mills left in Lincoln County, logs off the Kootenai stream into Idaho and the Flathead. Counties with National Forests used to get 25% of federal timber receipts, but when harvest levels plummeted, Congress bailed out these struggling counties by this loss of revenue by enacting the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. 

It was supposed to be terminated in 2006, but has carried on and was recently reauthorized with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021. 

Lincoln County will get more than $4 million this year whether the Forest Service cuts a stick or not. Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for 2023 adds to the pot to the tune of $785,316, (45 cents/acre for 1.76 million acres, which is a number I haven’t quite figured out). This is from public lands, not eligible to be taxed directly by the county.

I am in no way opposed to cutting timber and forest management, but connecting the Lincoln County Library to “frivolous lawsuits” is quite a stretch. 

Though I live in Libby, I like Troy and know how popular the library is there. The aforementioned writers questioned, “why we need a library in Troy which has a population of 797 people.” 

With that in mind, I was curious just how popular the Library in Troy actually is? With a little fact checking I discovered that out of a total number of 8,038 Lincoln County Library card holders, Troy has about 1,600. That’s quite an arithmetic trick or their library is really, really, popular!

I’ll cross my fingers the Troy and/or Eureka libraries don’t close, but if they do, I find it a sad reflection on the community when we value our casinos more than our libraries.

Tom Horelick, Libby