Dade County Library funds, hours sliced

Dade County Library funds, hours sliced

July 24th, 2012 by Ben Benton in News

Marshana Sharp, lower right, education coordinator and manager at the Dade County Library, uses her son and nephew to help unpack boxes in the "Ready to Read" room Monday.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

TRENTON, Ga. -- The Dade County Public Library will be open no more than 20 hours a week after county Board of Education members voted not to fund it Monday night.

Despite passionate pleas from a standing-room-only crowd of supporters, Dade County school board members passed a budget 4-1 that contained no funding for the facility.

Library supporters told board members that withholding funding for the library was a "sin," a "shame" and a "disappointment" that could spell the end for a facility that provides the community with needed computer access, literature and a "quality of life" that can't be replaced.

Several people pleaded for board members to weigh other funding options -- just as they had in two previous budget hearings -- but only swayed board member David Powell to make a motion to amend the budget by $19,000, half of last year's contribution to the library.

The motion failed for a lack of a second.

Powell was the lone "no" vote while Gary Massengale, Ronnie Page, Carolyn Bradford and Jeff Forester voted in favor.

Massengale said the board had little choice when facing a "deficit budget" and the near-certainty of having to raise taxes next year just to "stay even."

Dade Public Library Manager and Youth Programs Coordinator Marshana Sharp said the library now will go to 20 hours a week, and other cuts and reductions in services could follow.

"Come Tuesday morning, we'll have to start seeing what we can do," Sharp said. New hours will be drafted and put into place immediately.

Sharp and Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library system, as well as members of the audience, said they also were worried that a lack of local funding could mean the loss of state funding, too. The state provides 33 percent of a library's funding, but only if the local tax support is there.

School Superintendent Shawn Tobin said the issue for the school system boils down to a choice between paraprofessional positions for the classroom and the library. Schools have endured years of ongoing funding cuts that now are so deep they impact Dade's library, Tobin said.

Boxes of library materials sit on the floor inside the Dade County Library on Monday. Education coordinator and manager Marshana Sharp, top center, prepares to unpack boxes with the help of her son Brandon Sharp.

Boxes of library materials sit on the floor...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Driver's education and contributions to some employee benefits were eliminated at a time when Dade schools already were reeling from ongoing state funding cuts, furloughs and double-digit layoffs, he said.

A $200,000 increase in health insurance premiums in the coming year also prompted a proposed 1-mill increase on the county's property tax rate of 12.92. The millage hike also was approved Monday night.

The funding cut means the facility in Trenton will reduce its hours of operation while the solution lies in finding new funding mechanisms for the library, said Eubanks, who manages the Dade branch. Now the only county money going to the library will be $64,800 contributed by the county government, she said.

At Eubank's request, Dade County voters will get a chance to weigh in on a straw poll question on the July 31 election ballot on whether the Dade County Commission should dedicate a fixed portion of county property taxes for the library.

In answer to an anticipated $83,000 shortfall, library officials recently announced employee layoffs and a reduction of operating hours at the Chickamauga, LaFayette, Rossville and Trenton branches to 30 hours a week because of higher health insurance costs for part-time employees and reduced funding from the two counties' school districts.

Previously, Walker County schools provided $59,000 in annual funding, and Dade kicked in almost $38,000, according to news archives. Walker has proposed cutting its contribution to $25,000, but the library system's cuts assumed Dade schools would reduce funding by half, not eliminate it, Eubanks said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@times or 423-757-6569.