Friday, November 12, 2010

Funding a Library

The Natchez Adams Wilkinson Library Service manages three libraries: one in Natchez, one in Centreville, and one in Woodville. We receive regular state money that helps to pay salaries and health insurance, provided we obey their rules. We also receive federal money for telephone and internet service that also comes with strings attached. Other than that, our funding comes from two sources.
  • 35%: Funds we collect from fines, donations, and charges for certain services like printing, copying faxes. Public libraries are not allowed to make a profit, so we have to limit what we can charge.
  • 65%: Funding from local governments: City of Natchez for the Natchez library and Wilkinson County for the Centreville and Woodville libraries.
We are an independent agency and not part of the City government, and yet it provides 65% of our funding. This leads to some strange happenings. As a little stepchild of the City government, we were required to go every year to beg for money - along with all the other nonprofits. This is no way to run a library! So one of our Library Director's top priorities was to get us on dedicated millage, as most other libraries in the state are.

A dedicated tax is when a certain tax (or a set percentage of a tax) is allocated to a specific purpose. For example, the tax you pay on gasoline is dedicated to the transportation system. Some states dedicate the proceeds of their lotteries to education. In Mississippi, it is common for counties to allocate a certain amount of millage for libraries. That was what our Director had been trying to do since she arrived.

In 2005, she was finally successful! The Library was given a dedicated millage of 2.575, which was equal to the amount that had been allocated the year before. With dedicated millage, the Library receives a certain percentage of the tax revenues. It will go up and down each year, depending on the amount of taxes collected, and the Library budgets accordingly. In lean years, we tighten our belts, but in good years, we can purchase extra equipment or books. Giving the Library a dedicated millage was a tax increase because it is above and beyond what is collected for the City, so a public hearing was held and there was no objection.

According to the City's Annual Audit, these were the amounts received in the years since the dedicated millage was passed.
  • 2006: $251,236.00, $3,764.00 decrease
  • 2007: $238,079.00, $16,921.00 decrease
  • 2008: $263,018.00, $8,018.00 increase
  • 2009: $271,936.00, $16,936.00 increase
In 2010, we were scheduled to receive another increase, because properties were reassessed and a mill was worth more. The County lowered their millage to keep taxes about the same, but the City chose not to do that, thus increasing everyones taxes. Not only that, but the City decided to decrease the Library's millage. Changes in millage and the City budget are supposed to have public hearings. There was a public hearing on the budget and millage, but the public was never told that the tax increase they supported for the Library was going to be taken away. It was not discussed at the hearing, it was not in any of the information distributed, nor was it in the newspaper. Several aldermen were not even aware that's what was done. In fact, the City never even told the Library!  Is this legal? Probably not. But there's not much the Library can do. We can't very well sue our major funding source.

We've learned something from this experience. Our Director now attends all meetings of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, just to be sure they don't do anything to the Library and neglect to tell us - certainly not the best use of her time. Plus,when budget time comes up next time, we will be ready!

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