Robert Smith, left, and Harry Sanders
Columbus-Lowndes Public Library staff and supporters packed the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors chambers Tuesday to lobby for full funding of the library. The group included, left to right, library board president Amanda Meadows, library director Erin Busbea and library archivist Mona Vance.
Photo by: Slim Smith/Dispatch Staff
September 5, 2018 10:56:36 AM
Columbus-Lowndes Public Library employees started Tuesday believing the organization could suffer a cut of up to $91,500 in public funds next fiscal year.
They ended Tuesday with assurances library funding would actually increase.
Columbus City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening, at Mayor Robert Smith's recommendation, to raise its contribution to the library by $10,000 for Fiscal Year 2019, which starts Oct. 1. The vote garnered applause from several in the audience in the municipal courtroom.
That came on the heels of a Tuesday morning Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting, in which the supervisors Harry Sanders and Leroy Brooks both assured the two dozen or so library staffers present that the county would leave its contribution the same as 2018. The county will not formalize that until it votes on its budget later this month.
With the county promise and the city council's vote, the library can depend on $649,000 in local funds next year -- including $365,000 from the county and $284,000 from the city. That will fund programs and operations at the system's Columbus, Caledonia, Crawford and Artesia facilities.
"Y'all shouldn't worry," Sanders told library supporters during the supervisors' meeting. "I don't know where all this rhetoric came from, where we said we were going to lower our support for the library. In my mind, that never was an option."
Interestingly, Sanders, himself, was the source of some of the "rhetoric."
Funding for the library came under scrutiny as part of dispute between the county and city over its various partnerships.
Sanders, responding to criticism from the city over parks funding, said the city has failed to live up its financial promises in a number of partnerships, including what he said was a 50/50 pledge to fund the library. However, the contract between the two entities doesn't specify an amount or percentage either entity must contribute.
Since 2009, the county has allocated a combined $801,000 more than the city for library operations, including a $91,500 disparity in 2018. But Sanders -- speaking to The Dispatch for an article that published Aug. 23 -- hinted the arrangement might change.
"We aren't looking to defund them totally, but I think there might be a will on the board to lower the contribution to what the city pays because this agreement is supposed to be 50-50," Sanders then told The Dispatch.
Library Director Erin Busbea, earlier in August, had approached the city council at a budget hearing where she indicated County Administrator Ralph Billingsley advised her to approach city officials about raising their contribution, either all the way up to the county's funding level or by splitting the difference and allowing the county to come down by $45,500.
The threat of losing funding spurred library supporters into a grassroots effort that included dozens of calls and emails to supervisors and city councilmen, as well as a social media blitz that conveyed concerns that a loss of funding would mean cuts to programs and services.
Signs posted on the Columbus library's entrance, and on shelves throughout the building, implored patrons to contact their elected officials. Anyone checking out material at the front desk was asked to fill out a post card with "what the library means to you," all of which were compiled to present to elected officials.
On Tuesday, library staffers and supporters packed the county boardroom, many of them carrying signs that read "Pro-Library" or "Fund the Library."
When District 5 Supervisor Brooks entered the boardroom, he immediately tried to allay their concerns.
"Y'all don't need to worry," he said. "We're going to fund the library."
Fewer supporters showed up to the city council meeting that evening, where Busbea and Library Board President Amanda Meadows successfully lobbied for the $10,000 funding bump, but the half-dozen or so who did attend brought the signs along.
"I really think it helped a lot," Busbea said of the library's grassroots effort. "I think a lot of people saw there was a potential for our funding to be cut and realized what that would mean. It was amazing to see so many people who took it serious and made calls and sent emails. I do think it made a difference and I think it raised awareness of all the things we do.
"We're ecstatic," she later added. "We've been hopeful this whole time, but in the back of our minds, there was always that 'what if?' We're very pleased and very gracious to the city and county."
City councilmen, specifically Ward 3's Charlie Box and Ward 6's Bill Gavin, took issue with some of the tactics library supporters took in their telephone campaign -- especially some accusations the city might be trying to cut library funding, which was never the case.
Still, Box regarded the library's campaign as effective.
"I got a bunch of calls," he told Busbea and Meadows at the council meeting. "If I ever want to do a telephone campaign (for an election), I'm going to call you."
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