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County rejects request to take over Williamsport library building

April 24, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS and DAVE McMILLION | heather.keels@herald-mail.com and davem@herald-mail.com
  • The Williamsport Town Council voted April 11 in favor of transferring ownership of the Williamsport Memorial Library at 104 E. Potomac St. to the county, but the Board of County Commissioners rejected the request.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Washington County officials have turned down a request from the Williamsport Mayor and Council for the county to assume ownership of the Williamsport Memorial Library building to help the town save money.

Although the Washington County Free Library system runs the library and supplies the books and resources, the building that houses it at 104 E. Potomac St. is owned and maintained by the town, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf said town officials discussed turning over ownership to the county as they explored ways to trim the town’s budget in light of funding cuts. The change would save Williamsport about $20,000 a year, McCleaf said.

The Williamsport Town Council voted April 11 in favor of transferring ownership to the county.

At their meeting Tuesday, three members of the Board of County Commissioners expressed reluctance or opposition to the idea and the consensus was to not assume ownership.

Commissioner William B. McKinley said Williamsport citizens to whom he had spoken wanted the town to maintain ownership because of the building’s historical significance.

“It goes all the way back to (1935) when a bus load of high school kids went to Montgomery County for a field trip and were killed on the way home in a train accident,” McKinley said. “In the middle of the Depression, the townspeople in Williamsport dug deep into their pockets and built that library as a memorial to those students.”

Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said he heard the same feedback.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said it would be unfair to help with the Williamsport library when other towns in the county have had to rely on local foundations to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to put into their library buildings.

“As much as I have a strong desire to help the town of Williamsport, I can’t support funding their library without the same conditions that we give to all other municipalities,” she said.

Contacted Wednesday, McCleaf said he had not heard from any citizens opposed to a change in ownership.

He said he did not know yet how the decision would affect the town budget.

“I have to go back to the drawing board now,” he said.

McCleaf stressed that many people who use the Williamsport library come from outside the town.

“All we were asking was that we could be treated like all the other libraries in the county,” McCleaf said. “Clear Spring doesn’t pay for theirs, Boonsboro doesn’t pay for theirs, nobody else pays for theirs but us.”

Murray said the county has been taking ownership of newer libraries that have been built or reconstructed, while older library branch buildings are still owned by their municipalities.

The county owns the Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Clear Spring branches, while the Hancock, Williamsport, Sharpsburg and Keedysville branches are owned by their respective towns, said Kathleen O’Connell, assistant director of the Washington County Free Library.

Washington County contributes about $125,000 per year toward the Williamsport library’s operating expenses, including salaries, and pays half of the library’s utility costs, Murray said.

The county also has pitched in to help the town with several improvements to the library within the past three years, including the building’s roof, he said.

In an interview before the county vote, McCleaf said if the town could make budget cuts, the money saved could be used to make improvements in areas like town roads.

“We’re doing out best. We’re not going to raise taxes,” McCleaf said then.

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