published Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Lack of money forces Rossville Public Library to cut hours

HOURS AND FUNDING

• Rossville Public Library hours beginning Monday: Closed Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Open Tuesday 10-4; Wednesday 12-6; Thursday 1-7.

• Cities’ 2014 library funding: Rossville, $54,000; Chickamauga, $74,000; LaFayette, $85,500.

• Cities’ 2000-2014 library funding (not including in-kind contributions): Rossville, $851,721; Chickamauga, $660,952; LaFayette, $1.12 million

  • photo
    Roman Hoover picks out books Tuesday at the Rossville Public Library.
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The Rossville Public Library will be open only 18 hours a week starting Monday, compared to 30 hours at its sister libraries in Chickamauga and LaFayette.

Cherokee Regional Library officials say there isn’t enough money to support three full-service libraries in Walker County. Rossville’s hours were cut from the current 28 hours, they say, because support from its city government is lagging.

“It’s not about usage. It simply came down to local support,” regional library board Vice Chairman Shannon Whitfield said in a news release.

Rossville’s annual $54,000 contribution is roughly the same as in 2000, library officials say. In contrast, LaFayette’s $85,500 in funding is up 29 percent from 2000 and Chickamauga’s $74,000 contribution is up 85 percent from then.

However, the same spreadsheet that generated those figures shows that Chickamauga gave only $11,309 in 2000 — when Rossville gave $53,750. Overall since 2000, according to the spreadsheet, Rossville gave $190,769 more than Chickamauga. Rossville contributed a total of $851,721 since then, compared to $660,952 by Chickamauga and $1.12 million by LaFayette.

Rossville Mayor Teddy Harris cried foul over the cuts.

“We’re giving all we can give,” Harris said. “We get the short end of the stick even though we get more usage than the other libraries.”

Harris also argued that Rossville doesn’t get its fair share of money dedicated to the library system by county government and Walker County Schools.

The Rossville library will get $3,500 from Walker County Schools in the upcoming fiscal year, according to library figures, compared to $11,550 for Chickamauga and $19,950 for LaFayette. Rossville’s share of Walker County Commission funding will be $15,383, compared with $51,433 for Chickamauga and $87,010 for LaFayette.

Harris said the county and school money should be split into thirds and shared evenly among the three libraries.

Library system Director Lecia Eubanks said that equally dividing the county’s and school system’s funding isn’t practical, because the three libraries are in different-sized buildings with different-sized staffs.

“Do all of [Mayor Harris’] departments get an equal cut of his budget?” Eubanks asked.

She also said the spreadsheet of annual contributions by the cities doesn’t include in-kind contributions. Chickamauga, for example, pays for its library’s utilities and the upkeep of the building.

Eubanks said, “When you add in the support from the Walker County Board of Education and the Walker County commissioner, there is still not enough money to operate three branch libraries in Walker County.”

A recent increase of $10,000 from the Walker County Board of Education provided additional funds to keep the Rossville Library from closing, she said. And eleventh-hour donations from a local resident and a foundation will keep Rossville’s weekly “Ready to Read” story hour in place on Tuesday mornings at 10:30.

Dwindling fund reserves have been used in recent years to operate the three libraries in Walker County, but regional board Chairman Tom Harrison said in the news release, “No more. This has to stop.”

This marks the first time in three years that the library system’s budget is balanced, Eubanks said.

Library officials had hoped that Walker County voters would increase property taxes in May to provide funding to open all three libraries 40 hours per week. The quarter-cent property tax increase vote failed.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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