Editorial: We need good books — and good people

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In the great library debate, Glen Seely is right.

And so is John Hartung.

They’re both right in that their efforts, which at times might appear counter to each other, are actually pointed in the same direction.

The right direction, in our humble opinion.

In case you missed it, we published a story last weekend in which Seely, a former Community Library Network trustee, took Hartung to task for:

a) allegedly making too much money (Hartung’s salary is just a few paperbacks short of $100,000);

b) allegedly spending too much money on salaries (about three-quarters of the $4 million budget from local property taxes is spent on 90 employees);

and c) allegedly spending too little on books (about $465,000 on books, e-books and other materials).

Hartung, the network’s director, says his salary is in line for a person who’s been with the district 37 years and that it’s in the ballpark for others in similar positions. He says salaries comprise less than half (49.2 percent) of the library district’s total budget. And he says he’d love to spend more on books, but describes the library network as a “service industry” in which customers demand service that requires a sufficient number of well-trained employees.

Seely thinks taxpayers should get more reading material for their money, especially considering the network’s propensity for taking the full 3 percent tax increase allowed by law every year. He says library network payroll has increased a whopping 56 percent since 2011, when the nation was beginning to escape from the Great Recession’s tentacles.

That’s a hard point to argue. How many public entities do you know that have seen payroll grow by half again in six years?

On the other hand, we’re big fans of the Community Library Network, which includes the fabulous libraries in Post Falls and Hayden, as well as Athol, Spirit Lake, Rathdrum, Harrison and Pinehurst — and a bookmobile, too. We especially appreciate the fact that you can borrow a book from one library and return it to another. You can order a book online, and if it’s available at a network library far from you, it will quickly be brought to a library close to you. We’re extremely appreciative of that kind of service, as well as the many programs these local libraries offer the public.

Where we agree most with Seely is that too few citizens give a Dickens about public budgets. Seely knows what newspaper folks and elected officials have observed for years: That the vast majority of taxpayers would rather complain after the fact than help do the work and shape local budgets before they’re adopted. If enough people wanted fewer library network employees and more books, they would get their way — but they’d have to make themselves heard first, in elections like Tuesday’s and at budget workshops like the one that will be held in August.

And that second part, history suggests, is simply not going to happen.

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