CARLISLE — The Cumberland County commissioners and the Cumberland County Library System are expected to soon take steps to begin what is being described as a consensus-building process between the two entities.
“There is a yawning chasm of difference apparently between that board and this board,” commissioner Gary Eichelberger said. “That needs to be bridged, and that’s going to take some effort and initiative.”
At Thursday’s workshop meeting of the commissioners, a proposal to start a structured dialogue between the two groups using a third-party mediator was discussed and garnered overwhelming approval by the board.
Cumberland County Chief Clerk Larry Thomas said the talks are meant to bring a minimal level of consensus between the commissioners and library system, so the system can continue to serve residents of the Midstate. This consensus would help establish funding for the library in the short term and facilitate long-term cooperation between the two entities.
Thomas said the basic dilemma comes down to how the library system replenishes its reserves, which he explained was able to withstand the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009 and a significant cut in state funding.
“The CCLS over 12 years managed a budget surplus by economizing private funding sources ... however at this point, the reserves are running out,” Thomas said. “And at this point, there is no board of commissioners support for replenishing the reserves through an increase in the library tax millage rate.”
The county commissioners declined its request to increase the tax by 3 percent last year.
“This whole financial issue is brought on by a cut in state funds,” commissioner Jim Hertzler said.
According to Thomas, the board’s position is that the library system has not adapted properly to changing economic and societal changes, and a long-term plan needs to be created to figure out how the library moves into the future.
“Ultimately, there are many intelligent and creative people on both sides of the table here,” Thomas said. “Structured facilitated dialogue would be a way to help those good minds and dedicated people come to a consensus of how the county and libraries might cooperate over the next years in the context of likely flat funding.”
Eichelberger said he felt there was agreement in January that discussion was needed between the county and the library system on the future of the library system. He described the mediated discussion as using professional tools to have that conversation.
“This idea of facilitated discussion was not just unveiled to us yesterday,” Eichelberger said. “It has been discussed in this room on numerous occasions.”
The maximum amount to be spent on the structured facilitated dialogue is $7,500 and will be split between the county and the library system.
A vote is expected on the hiring of a mediator at the commissioner’s Aug. 7 meeting.