Thursday, September 11, 2008

Your Library Really Needs You Monday

Your Library desperately needs an increase in the funding it receives from the City of Natchez. Unfortunately, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, in their infinite wisdom, seem not to have granted the request. The public hearing for the budget is Monday, September 15 at 5 pm in the City Council Chambers.

Please come and tell the City you don't mind paying a couple of bucks extra a year to help your Library.

How much extra? The exact amount will be presented at the hearing, but the average homeowner would have to pay $2 - $3 extra a year. The Library's funding was put on dedicated millage in 2006, but the rate - a little more than 2.5 mills - was figured to give the Library exactly the same amount it had the year before. The Library has requested it be increased to 3 mills.

The Concordia Parish Library. with only 20,000 population, gets 8.5 mill bringing in $850,000. Do the math! Adams County has almost twice the population, but slightly more than a third the millage. Something is wrong with this picture.

Did you know that the Library has not had an increase in funding in 10 years? Imagine the shape your household would be in if your household income had stayed exactly the same for 10 years - no cost of living and no inflation factor. Only through excellent management and creative financing solutions has the Library been able to keep up as well as it has with the needs of this community.

But you can only do so much before you reach the end of your rope - that's where the Library is right now. To understand the dilemma, you need to know that the City owns the Library building, and the Library must pay all of its operating expenses. Although the Library serves all the citizens of Adams County, it does not receive funds from the County government - only from the City. In addition, the Library obtains funds through state and federal grants, as well as any other grants it can find.

If you go by the Library, you will see that the outside of the building badly needs repainting and some structural repairs. However, the City will not pay for this - because it says it has buildings in worse condition. Hurricane Gustav made the exterior situation even worse. Insurance will pay for the damage done by Gustav itself, but not for the wear and tear on a building whose exterior is in such a state of disrepair.

If you frequent the Library, you know the long running saga of the air conditioning. The Library frequently has to close for days at a time when it's not working. When it is working, it gets so cold that heaters have to be used in parts of the building. That's because the air conditioning has to run all the time, because the thermostats quit working years ago. The system cannot be repaired - it needs a major overhaul or even complete replacement. Paul Dawes and his staff at the Inspections and Building Department are very good at performing miracles at keeping it going - but there is a limit to even their abilities. Do you know how much the Library paid for electricity last month? Almost $7000! It should be less than half of that. I bet if the City had to pay that electric bill, they'd do something about the air conditioning.

Now, the Library cannot pay for the air conditioning with the increase in millage - in fact it is not allowed to make capital improvements - one of the conditions for some of the grants received from the State. That is the responsibility of the local government. However, it may be able to pay for part of it - and it stands a much better chance of obtaining grants if it can show the City's willingness to invest in the Library.

Plus, with the increase, the Library could probably get the exterior of the building painted and repaired - and could do some much needed repairs inside. It could also expand the hours that it's open and increase the services provided to patrons. There is so much the Library could do with that couple of bucks.

So if the increase is so small and the need is so great, why didn't the City approve it? Well, you'll have to ask them, but here's my theory. Once the County announced they were cutting their taxes, the City didn't want to look bad by increasing theirs.

I know for some people and some politicians, cutting taxes in the most important thing in the world. They could care less if their infrastructure is collapsing. (Do you hear me, Henry Watts?) However, there are also citizens and politicians that understand that investing in your community pays off in the long run. Just look at how easily the hotel tax passed referendum. Citizens will pay taxes, if they think it will be spent wisely and will benefit the community.

So will you please come to the hearing and tell the Mayor and Board that you're willing to invest a couple of bucks in your Library?

Monday, September 15 at 5 pm
City Council Chambers

FULL DISCLOSURE: I work part time at the Library.

1 comment:

littlewomedievalist said...

I'm so happy to have come across a blog written by a fellow Natchezian Democrat! I love what you guys are doing-- we *do* need a voice in my hometown. Thank you for everything you're doing, and keep it up!