February 16, 2018

Dade Board of Ed Slashes Funding; Could Shutter Library

Dade County, GA’s Board of Education voted to stop contributing funding to the public library on July 23, according to the Dade County Sentinel. The library had historically been funded jointly by a combination of the schools, the county, and the city of Trenton, none of which are legally obligated to do so. The board most recently contributed about $38,000, or 31 percent of the library’s support, but said now, in light of its own deficit, even half that was too much.

Unfortunately, according to Cherokee Regional Library System Director Lecia Eubanks, because the state considers maintenance of effort on a system-wide basis rather than county by county, Dade’s lack of support could cause the whole four-library system to forfeit its state dollars, which amount to a third of the system’s funding. “Before Cherokee Regional Library System would let that happen and cause the other libraries to lose their state funding, they would most likely have to close the Dade County Public Library down,” she said.

Previously, Walker County schools provided $59,000 in annual funding to the system, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Walker has proposed cutting its contribution to $25,000.

Library officials had already made layoffs and reduced operating hours at the Chickamauga, LaFayette, Rossville and Trenton branches to 30 hours a week—the minimum allowable to be considered by the state a public library branch, according to the Sentinel. Now the library’s newly expanded and renovated building will open only 20 hours a week, at least until the end of the year, when the state reviews funding. And then, “We will in fact, either open only for two days per week with no programming as a service outlet, a far cry from a branch library,” Cherokee Regional’s assistant director, Darla Chambliss, said in a statement. “Or, we will close the beautiful new library completely.”

It seems the library just can’t catch a break: last year, while the library was still being renovated, the temporary location suffered storm damage, soaking the collection and computers, as LJ reported.

Eubanks said the library’s last hope was that the county would step up its own  contribution ($65,000 at present) to make up the shortfall, but Dade County Commission Chairman Ted Rumley said that the county is already supporting the library as much as it can. However the Sentinel also quoted Rumley as saying Dade will not let the library close altogether, even if it means pulling out of the Cherokee Regional system and having a small county library instead.

A straw poll on the July 31 ballot will ask county residents how they feel about dedicating a fixed portion of county property taxes to funding the library, but even if a majority support the idea, the results are not binding on the county.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.