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UPDATE AS OF 2:30 P.M. SEPT. 14: The Llano County Library building has been pulled from trade negotiations between the county and the city of Llano for the John L. Kuykendall Event Center, DailyTrib.com has learned. The story will be updated as details are learned.

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Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham issued a statement on behalf of the county Wednesday, Sept. 14, addressing the current controversy over a possible trade of the Llano County Library and several county parks for the John L. Kuykendall Event Center and Arena. The trade would be between the city of Llano and the county, giving the county ownership and responsibility for upkeep, maintenance, and the budget of the event center. 

“Approximately two years ago, the City of Llano approached Llano County with an offer to exchange the John L. Kuykendall Center in return for several county owned properties,” reads part of the statement, which was sent in an email. “Since that time there has been an ongoing open dialogue between the parties regarding the possibility of a mutually beneficial exchange of properties. Recently, both parties have authorized representatives to have preliminary discussions regarding the potential exchange of properties.” 

The current wave of negotiations between the city and the county began when newly appointed Llano Mayor Kelli Tudyk approached the Llano County Commissioners Court on July 25 to propose a trade of the center to the county in exchange for county-owned property across the city. The city loses about $133,000 a year on event center operations, which Tudyk said it could no longer afford. The county can use hotel occupancy tax money to fund the center.

Initial negotiations between the city and the county included several county-owned parks, lots, and structures in exchange for the event center, which has an estimated value of $4.5 million. The center sits on 88 acres of land and contains a rodeo arena and a 25,000 square-foot air-conditioned facility. 

The Llano Library building was added as a possible part of the trade during the regular meeting of the Llano City Council on Sept. 6. While no decisions were made, the public expressed concerns that the library would be lost if such a deal were made.

“While on September 6, 2022, the Llano City Council discussed adding the Llano Library Building as an additional property for consideration in the exchange, at no point has the Llano County Commissioners Court had any formal discussions regarding which specific county properties would be included in the event an exchange of properties for the Kuykendall Center were to occur,” the statement continues.

The Llano County Library System has been at the center of controversy for over a year now, resulting in a federal civil lawsuit that was filed April 25 by a group of Llano County residents against the Llano County commissioners and certain members of the county’s Library Advisory Committee and the library system director. The defendants are charged with banning books and changing the e-book service to restrict access to certain titles based on their individual political beliefs.

Commissioners were also recently criticized for cutting the library budget for 2022-23 by about $150,000, the same amount they allotted earlier for outside counsel to fight the lawsuit

On Monday, Sept. 12, all six of the county’s librarians presented an official letter of grievance to Library Director Amber Milum, who left in the middle of the meeting as the letter was being read to her. They listed as grievances the lack of staffing, infrastructure improvements, and that the libraries have had to cut most of their programming and have not bought any new books in over a year.

As for the fate of the Llano Library building, negotiations between the county and the city for the JLK Event Center are in early stages, said Tudyk and Cunningham. Both have stated that nothing is set in stone. Tudyk made it clear in an interview with DailyTrib.com that the city could not afford to operate the library on its own. Cunningham reassured constituents in his statement that the library would not be closed. 

“Llano County intends to continue to operate the library system and in fact just approved the Llano County FY 2022-2023 budget which includes a Llano County Library System operational budget of $448,501,” continued the written statement from Llano County.

It is unclear what would happen to the Llano Library if the building were traded to the city

“The main reason we are wanting to trade the JLK — people are kind of losing sight of this — we want to keep it in the county and have some control over it and relieve the burden which it puts on the city and its citizens,” Tudyk said, meaning she did not want to see it sold to an outside interest. “Trading one burden for another is not what we’re looking for.”

While the city has discussed the library as a potential option in the trade, the Llano County Commissioners Court did not discuss the trade at its latest meeting on Sept. 12.

“Llano County Commissioners Court and the Llano City Council work independently and neither governmental agency dictates or controls what topics are discussed in the other agency’s meetings,” concluded the written statement from Cunningham.

The Llano City Council will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at City Hall, 301 W. Main St., that includes an executive session to “discuss the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property.” 

The council will then reconvene in open session for further discussion and possible action. The item does not specifically mention the library.

The next regular meeting of the council is expected to be at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19. As of press time, no agenda for that meeting was posted. 

The next regular meeting of the Llano County Commissioners Court is expected to be at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at 2001 Texas 16 North in the Law Enforcement Center in Llano. Agendas are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting. 

dakota@thepicayune.com