Libraries ask parish for funding assistance

Published 7:12 am Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In the face of potential state funding cuts, the parish library system is seeking to secure funding for the next fiscal year.

Al Barron, the parish’s library director, spoke to the Washington Parish Council on Monday and he suggested the library might need to depend on a local tax hike to make up for cuts in state funding. Barron pointed out that the library system is popular and provides necessary services for children, shut-ins and for people without access to the Internet across the parish, but it cannot continue to operate if funds are cut.

“It appears that some of our state funding, if not all of it, is under attack,” Barron said. He added that changes in state or federal funding could have a “devastating effect” on the library.

“Do we contract the services we have or do we ensure there are resources available for our children,” he asked the council.

Behind Barron, about 20 library employees and “Friends of the Library” sat, supporting his message.

After Barron spoke, Jim Adams, the vice president of the library’s board, made his remarks. Adams pointed out that the library has made significant cuts to its budget in recent years and is only just now on firm financial footing.

“By making a whole lot of cuts — and I’m talking about those kinds of cuts that hurt — we are in a sound financial position, and we’re in the black,” he said.

At the same time, Adams said parish residents want the library to expand its services to the northeastern part of the parish.

“We believe we have the available funds now to expand our services in that area,” he said.

But Adams added that if funds are cut it wouldn’t be able to expand services to that part of the parish. He also said the library hasn’t asked for an increase in millage in 30 years.

Adams said the state could cut $147,000 from the Washington Parish library system.

“We cannot continue the same services we’re now providing with that kind of a loss,” he said.

Adams said he believes area residents would support a hike in millage in order to see the library grow.

Council members didn’t promise anything one way or another, but Reginald McMasters asked the library representatives to write up an idea for an increased millage and bring that request to the parish’s financial committee.

At the end of the meeting, during council discussion, councilman Michael Fussell said the financial committee would be willing to listen to what the library board presented.

“These are tough times for everybody,” he said. “I don’t know where we’re headed with the request, but we’ll discuss it at the finance committee meeting.”

Levi Lewis said he didn’t want to see the library shut its doors.

“Some agencies get the cut and it cripples them. Some agencies get cut and it buries them. What we want to do is avoid the burial,” he said.

After Adams spoke, Parish President Ned Thomas gave his updates. He said various parish projects are moving forward at a good clip. He noted that the landfill’s new cell is moving ahead of schedule and should be soon completed and the animal shelter on Yacc Road is also almost finished.

Thomas said he’s happy the parish has been able to pay for the repairs and the retrofitting from the parish’s budget without having to depend on external sources.

“We haven’t received any money from the state or anything. I don’t know how we’re doing it,” he said. “It’s been a miracle.”

However, Thomas did say he’s hopeful the state might pitch in $80,000, as the state hasn’t given the parish any money for capital outlays in six years.

Thomas said he’s also hoping to get $150,000 from FEMA in reimbursements for the parish’s expenses related to road and bridge repair, and another $145,000 back from cleanups.

“That was done all in-house,” he said.

Donna Graham, the financial director, then gave updates. She said the parish’s audit is complete.

“We had a very good report and the auditors will be here next meeting to present it,” she said.

Thomas then continued and said the bridge on Ben’s Ford Road is almost finished, but rain delays have stalled the laying of asphalt.

Finally, he reminded the council that there is a blood drive for Ian Stewart. Stewart is a child who, in January, was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia and is in immediate need of transfusions. The blood mobile at 909 Pearl St. in Bogalusa is taking donations, and it is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.