Catoosa County library board wants reins over budget

Catoosa County library board wants reins over budget

October 6th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Carl Henson, Catoosa County's financial officer

Carl Henson, Catoosa County's financial officer

RINGGOLD, Ga. - Arguing that local officials have covertly cut their funding, Catoosa County Public Library leaders want to take back some control.

The county's library board voted 5-0 in a meeting last week to begin handling its own money and provide benefits to its employees. Right now, Catoosa County's financial office handles these tasks.

But before the library board can make those changes, before it can cut its own paychecks and open its own bank account, Catoosa County commissioners have to approve the plan. So, library board members -- all of whom are appointed by the commissioners -- will ask those same commissioners this Tuesday to loosen their grip on the library.

The agenda for Tuesday's meeting states that Library Director Darla Chambliss and library board member Darlene Cutler will make a presentation to the commission, which is expected to vote on the issue Oct. 21.

All five commissioners either did not return calls or declined to comment last week.

Even if the board takes over its own financial management, the County Commission would still have to give the library the same amount of money it did before.

In Georgia, the relationship between local governments and libraries is tangled. The libraries receive money from both local and state governments.

Some libraries handle their own money, paying their employees directly. In other cases, such as in Catoosa County, the local government's financial office handles all the library's money, including the state funds.

Chambliss said last week she wants the library to become more autonomous for several reasons. She said library employees will be eligible for health benefits through the state government and will be eligible for the same retirement plan that Georgia's teachers have.

But the most pressing issue deals with funding. Chambliss, who is paid through the local and state governments, said the Catoosa County Commission cut the $20,000 a year they are supposed to pay her. The state government also pays her about $47,000 a year.

The county's approved budget for the fiscal year that began Wednesday, posted on the county's website, does not reflect this. The budget shows no decrease in salaries.

But Chambliss said the budget online is not the correct version.

Catoosa County Financial Director Carl Henson was out of his office last week and did not reply to an email seeking comment.

Chambliss said the salary reduction is about reducing the library's funding while pretending to comply with state rules. If a local government reduces money to its library, the state government must pull all its funding under its "maintenance of effort" regulation.

The library got $550,000 from the state last year, compared to $519,000 from local government.

This year, local government funding is $552,000, a $33,000 increase. But Chambliss said that figure is misleading.

Of that $552,000 that Catoosa County is giving the library, $50,000 is for "building repairs." This money comes from a matching grant with the state. The state gave the library $50,000 to replace air-conditioning units, paint the building and replace some of the bricks, among other improvements.

The grant required Catoosa County to chip in $50,000 toward those projects. But Chambliss said the money can't come from the county's library fund.

If the county government had drawn the money from some other area, the library's budget wouldn't show a $33,000 increase on paper. Instead, the budget would have decreased by about $20,000.

Chambliss said she wants to talk about this with the Catoosa County commissioners: "We're hoping we can explain that to them and [the funding] can be restored," she said.

If local library funding decreases, the board is supposed to report that to the state. As of last week, State Librarian Julie Walker was not sure about the details of Catoosa County's budget.

"We don't know if they have a problem," she said. "The local government may very well fund them at the same level."

Editor's note: Catoosa County Library Director Darla Chambliss is married to Chattanooga Times Free Press Region Editor Alex Chambliss.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.


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