Marion County libraries jeopardized

Marion County libraries jeopardized

December 5th, 2012 by Ryan Lewis in News

Sequatchie, Tenn., resident Carl Campbell researches geneology inside the Whitwell Library. "This is the place in Marion County to do that," Campbell said.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. -- A budget oversight in Whitwell, Tenn., could cause a loss of state services to all the public libraries in Marion County if officials don't act soon.

According to Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Whitwell must increase funding to its library by $5,574 above the appropriated amount of $33,560 so the state will consider the entire county to be "in compliance of [the state's] maintenance of effort requirement."

The vote for the increase must take place before Jan. 1, 2013, Hargett said, and failure to comply will result in a "loss of services" to all libraries in the county.

Local funding agencies are required to contribute a certain amount of funding for public libraries.

Last week, the Marion County Commission voted unanimously to "encourage" Whitwell city leaders "to get this issue straightened out."

"The city of Whitwell is not paying what they're supposed to pay for their library," Commission Chairman Les Price said. "It's going to end up costing South Pittsburg and Jasper their library services if they don't straighten that out."

Powells Crossroads Mayor Ralph Chapin, chairman of the county's library board, said Whitwell allocated the money for the library, but it was put in a special budget category called maintenance and utilities, so it couldn't be spent for anything else.

As a result, the city's library director was unable to access the money, officials said.

"When the regional director says you're going to lose state services, she doesn't mean [the state] is going to cut off services in the future," Chapin said. "That means they are going to take back all of the materials that they have supplied in the past."

Chapin said the state would "load up" trucks at each of the libraries in the county with DVDs, books and any other materials it had provided over the years.

"It's not just future support, but anything in the past they've provided the Marion County libraries," he said. "They're going to take it all back."

Commissioner Donald Blansett said, "It sounds like [Whitwell] has put the money in a line item that they can't spend, so all they need to do is go back and amend their budget and put it in a line item that they can spend."

Officials said the issue is on the agenda for Whitwell's regularly scheduled meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. CST, but three new commissioners will be sworn in on that night.

Whitwell Mayor Steve Hudson, who has been battling serious health problems, could be replaced by the revamped board at Thursday's meeting, too, officials said.

Chapin said the state will follow through with cutting services to all county libraries if Whitwell doesn't approve the additional money.

"This is not an idle threat," he said.

Betty Jo Jarvis, the Stones River Regional Library system director, is expected to attend the Whitwell meeting. The system serves libraries in counties including Cannon, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Marion and Warren.

"If they refuse to correct this at that meeting, it's over," Chapin said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.