SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Only moments before the South Pittsburg City Commission's November meeting, Commissioner Samantha Rector found out the town was not meeting its financial requirements for the Beene-Pearson Library that are outlined in an agreement with the state.
During the meeting, Rector said an increase of $2,025 was needed in the library's budget to adhere to those rules.
"If we don't do that, we lose books and technical support," she said.
South Pittsburg also would lose more than $5,000 annually in state funding.
City Administrator Gene Vess told the board he "didn't have a problem" with putting the money back into the library's budget, but then expressed deep concerns with how the Stones River Regional Library and the Marion County library board run local libraries.
"In my opinion, and I want to make it official, the library board is going to have to be more honest and coming forward to us as to what the expectations are," Vess said. "I keep finding money going in different directions it seems like every day."
He said South Pittsburg has "no say-so whatsoever" in the purchasing and funding decisions made at the library, even though the city puts more than $40,000 per year in its budget.
"If we budget that [money], and they don't use one single dime of it, that's what they get again next year," Vess said. "It seems like we have very, very little say. I just don't feel comfortable with the way the library board at the state level is working right now and trying to be honest with us."
City Attorney Billy Gouger said state law defines the maintenance of effort agreement.
"Once you've established your [funding] threshold, that's what you're obligated to continue from year to year," he said.
If the library budget goes over that threshold, Gouger said that doesn't necessarily mean the level must increase the next year.
Extraordinary expenditures, like making building improvements or purchasing updated equipment, would not count as an increase in funding.
If, however, the town increases the library's funding in its annual budget, "that can be seen as raising your threshold," he said.
"The risk that the city is facing now for the immediate future is too great to justify not amending the budget by the additional $2,000," Gouger said. "You can continue to fight the war, even though you may lose this battle."
The board voted 3-1 to return the money to the library's budget.
Mayor Virgil Holder, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said all the municipalities in the county have the same concerns about the Marion library system.
"They have no say-so," he said. "If they [the library] want to take the money out and spend it on balloons, they can go spend it on balloons, and nobody can question it."
Marion Library Board Chairman Jerry Don Moss said Holder's comments were not true.
The library board must get a purchase order from a municipality for every expenditure made with city funds, he said.
"But if you ask for a P.O., and we don't approve it, does that mean you don't spend it?" Holder asked Moss.
"We will spend it, but it will be spent on something that benefits the library," Moss replied.
"Then we have no say-so," Holder said.
Moss said "nobody" has expressed concern about the library board's operations except Holder.
"Oh, no sir. I've been to the meetings also," Holder told Moss. "They [other municipalities] all have."
Gouger suggested city leaders work with the Stones River Regional Library and state offices to "look at the big picture" and to begin addressing their concerns.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.