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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

The number 13 is thought lucky in some countries and stay-in-bed sinister in others. In Dade County, supporters of the local public library are expecting year 2013 to loom large in the institution’s beleaguered history. As it stands, the library is funded only through June of the year.

“I have a feeling this is going to be an important year for wheeling and dealing,” said Friends of the Library member Patsy Cannon as she nominated Donna Street for the group’s presidency at a meeting on Jan. 24 dedicated to discussing strategies for the library’s continued existence.

“It is going to be a very important, critical year,” said Ms. Street, as she later accepted the position. She replaces Linda Wilson, who will remain one of the group’s directors.

Both Ms. Wilson and Ms. Street are retired Dade County school teachers. Ms. Street has also chaired the county Democratic Party, run for elected office herself and been active in numerous political campaigns and community projects. 

With officers duly elected, the Friends next decided to amp up their meetings schedule for 2013, separating regular quarterly meetings from the monthly book club discussion groups, and announcing special called sessions as needed.

Moving on to matters fiscal, Ms. Wilson reported that the Trenton City Commission had not, as the Friends group hoped, voted at its January meeting on its library funding for this fiscal year. 

She said that the temporary workers who since the tornados of 2011 have been provided to the library, as well as to other county offices, by the Georgia Department of Labor through a federal grant will be gone in April and that the library must hire part-time help in order to stay open even for the reduced 30-hour week it adopted in July. “We can’t do it without money from the city,” she said.

Trenton Mayor Anthony Emanuel had at the city commission’s January meeting asked the library to provide figures for funding from the county and the board of education, the library’s other two funding sources, preparatory to the city’s voting on its own contribution at its February meeting scheduled for this Monday.

Historically, the county, city and board of education have shared responsibility for the library’s funding, in recent years kicking in annual amounts around $68,000 for the county, $30,000 for the city and $38,000 for the B of E. The state supplies additional funding based on local government support levels through an arrangement called “maintenance of effort.”

In its budget for 2011, though, Trenton proposed dumping all funding for the library. It relented in the face of public outcry, but reinstated the library only conditionally, and incidentally set the stage for a similar move last summer by the Board of Education.

The school board in July abruptly slashed the library from its own budget 100 percent, and even in the face of standing-room-only houses at three public hearings remained obdurate to popular protest to the withdrawal.

Amid all this, a nonbinding straw poll ballot question in the July primary election proposing that some portion of the county real estate tax be devoted to the library’s upkeep gained overwhelming support, with 71 percent voting in favor.

But it was too late to get the measure on the November general election ballot as a binding referendum question, and as for the Dade County Commission taking action on it independently, County Executive Ted Rumley has repeated in numerous statements his belief that the measure would amount to a tax increase and that voters didn’t realize that when they voted yes.

Rumley has also reiterated that the county is contributing all it feasibly can to the library as it stands. But he has vowed not to let the library close altogether, suggesting that Dade run it independently of the state system of which it is a branch.

At the FOL meeting, the Friends dismissed this notion as an impossibility. “I don’t think he realizes how little would be left,” said one member.

Not just the informational, cataloguing and bookkeeping systems provided by the state and regional system would be lost, said Friends, but the book collection. 

The city of Chickamauga had played some years ago with the notion of going it alone, pointed out Ms. Street, but in the end found it impractical.

The Friends discussed various ideas for events to benefit the library, and some adopted for further discussion. But Ms. Wilson said, “We can’t keep the library open on fundraisers.” 

She said the library would again approach the Dade Board of Education, asking for a slot on the board’s February or March agenda. But she added that Shawn Tobin, Dade’s current school superintendent, seemed unlikely to change his mind: It was at Tobin’s recommendation, and with the blessing of an out-of-town consultant he hired, that the school board last summer zeroed out library funding.

Tobin made regional headlines this weekend for spending $400,000 in Dade sales tax money to beef up security at Dade’s one high school. Surveillance cameras accurate enough to “make out the letters on a license plate in the parking lot,” according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, will shortly arrive in rural Dade.

“In the military, you know you’re always a target,” Tobin, an ex-Army man, explained his purchases to the Chattanooga paper.

Ms. Wilson and the Friends group, meanwhile, expressed little hope of convincing the superintendent to reinstate the library at the board’s former $38,000 per annum level. In default of that, she said, they will ask for the half share of $19,000 needed to keep the library open at the current 30-hour-a-week schedule.

Library manager Marshana Sharp addressed the Friends group briefly. She announced plans for adult computer classes she hopes to hold at the library once a month, and said she is soliciting volunteers to teach sessions.

Other activities discussed for the library included a historical research class and a monthly adult games night, perhaps with bridge, Trivial Pursuit and other board games.

Ms. Sharp announced free tax help would again be available at the library on Thursdays this month courtesy of AARP volunteers. The volunteers prefer to work by appointment, and readers may call the library at (706) 657-7857 to book their slots.

Since the schedule was slashed last summer, the library is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with half-days on Saturday.



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