published Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Dade County: Fund drive

By Mike Chambers

“We’re not here to ask you for money,” Donna Street recently told Dade County school board members with a chuckle.

Had that been the case, she said, board members would not have been surprised.

Street and other Cherokee Regional Library officials are making the rounds to city, county and school board officials, pushing the idea of creating single, clearinghouse setups in Walker and Dade counties to handle all funding requirements for the four branches of the library.

Without a consistent funding arrangement, the library system could eventually be forced to lay off employees or reduce hours at its four branches, said Lecia Eubanks, director of Cherokee Regional Library.

Even so, the proposal already has encountered opposition because it likely would raise property taxes.

Raising taxes for libraries is out of the question, said Dade County Executive Ted Rumley.

“If there is any kind of tax increase, it will go to roads, fire and police, necessities of Dade County,” said Rumley. “We are contributing to the library $80,000 a year, plus their building.

“We’re in a recession, things are not going up, they are going down,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of Dade County would agree with us.”

But Street said the present funding arrangement has library officials continually asking for money.

“We need to make it so we don’t look like we’re begging every six months,” Street said.

“When you go to three different funding calendars, it’s about every three months that we have to make an appearance somewhere and ask for money.”

HOW IT WOULD WORK

Under the proposal, Dade taxpayers would handle funding for the Dade County Library in Trenton, while Walker taxpayers would handle funding for the branches in Chickamauga, Rossville and LaFayette. Such a setup would remove the school systems and municipal governments from being under the gun for library funding.

Street, chairwoman of the Dade County board of trustees for the library, admitted that the arrangement would make taxes “go up a little bit (for the county),” but believes “the school’s money could then be used for other things that are needed in the school.” The city of Trenton also would save money, she said.

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said she understands the library’s concerns, but said it would be unpopular to raise taxes.

“I’m talking to people who hardly want to pay the essentials who may not like that idea,” she said.

Heiskell said she invited library staff to go with her to regularly scheduled community meetings, but the library might best stay funded the way it is.

“It’s a critical piece of our community and people use it,” she said.

Meeting planned

In Dade, a meeting of the county, city and school board is planned for mid-March to discuss the idea, said Street. Linda Wilson, who is on the board of directors for the Dade County Library, hopes the meeting will bear fruit.

Not only would Dade library officials not have to constantly scurry for funding, they would be able to pay more attention to actual library functions such as teen programs and pre-k reading skills, she said.

“The state does not give funds for that,” said Wilson.

In Dade County alone, “80 to 100 pre-k students a week” are served by the library, she said, and “that’s a big help to the school system.”

Eubanks is making similar efforts with Heiskell.

“This (form of sole county funding) will be a solution to funding problems that plague and always plague public libraries,” Eubanks said. It’s “transparent to taxpayers, and will fluctuate with economic times, both good and bad.”

“We do not want separate taxing authority, just consistency in funding,” Eubanks said, and “not be at the mercy of every new councilman or mayor.”

Historically, Street has had to go before the Dade County Commission, the county school board and the city of Trenton to secure roughly $150,000 in funding for the Trenton library.

Recently, the Trenton City Commission made a last-minute payment of $30,000 to its library, with no promise of future money.

In one case, LaFayette’s funding came from an expected source, according to Street. “We were sitting in a regional meeting and there was a bequest from someone who has passed for $50,000, a one-time gift.”

Staff Writer Andy Johns contributed to this story.

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