Budget constraints, growing expenses plague library
By anthony warren
Senior Staff Writer
Difficult decisions could be on the horizon for the Jackson-Hinds Library System.
Library buildings are plagued with structural issues the system cannot afford to address, while at the same time budget constraints grow, as more and more money is needed for security and employee salaries.
While personnel expenses skyrocket, the system can no longer afford to buy books.
In recent years, the library has begun leasing reading materials, helping to cut costs in the book budget.
Meanwhile, the Eudora Welty Library, the system’s flagship branch in downtown Jackson, has numerous leaks, structural damage and a black mold problem that gets worse with continued exposure to rainwater.
On the Northside, the Willie Morris Library suffers from leaks as well, while the Charles Tisdale Library has been permanently closed because of black mold.
The future of the Tisdale branch, which is used by 69,000 people each year, remains up in the air.
Library officials have asked the Jackson City Council to purchase or lease a new building for the branch, but the council had not made a decision at press time.
The library could be forced to temporarily relocate the Tisdale branch to south Jackson to save money. However, it was unclear where other cuts could be made.
“We’re struggling because we don’t have the funding we really need,” said Patty Furr, the system’s executive director. “We try so hard to keep these buildings up … but we are kind of behind the eight ball because we don’t have the funding to do as much as people ask us to do.”
The library must address structural problems and increased costs, all while continuing to keep up with the newest technology and ensuring patrons and
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employees are safe while using the facilities.
Furr has not approached the Jackson Friends of the Library, a local nonprofit designed to help raise money for the system. However, it’s unclear if the friends would be willing to help. The group is mainly focused on helping to buy books and other materials, not helping with structural problems.
Laura Smith Taylor, the group’s president, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Even with all its challenges, Jackson’s libraries are more popular than ever, with the number of visitors doubling in the last decade. In 2006, the system reported 740,000 visitors, compared with 1.5 million in 2016.
Between 2006 and 2016, Jackson-Hinds’ budget has also grown, going from $3.8 million to nearly $5.5 million.
More than 60 percent of last year’s budget, $3.46 million, went to salaries and employee benefits, according to audits.
Another $1.2 million went to contractual services, including security, cleaning and grass-cutting, Furr said.
Overall staffing at the system’s 15 branches has fallen, but new policies have led to increased personnel expenses.
“Security is our biggest cost. We tried to cut back, but we had incidents,” Furr said. “If someone says, ‘it’s dangerous at my library,’ what do I say? Costs are going up for guard service, but we can’t operate without them.”
The system began using armed guards a couple of years ago, in part, because of a drive-by shooting at one location.
Other incidents, including one each at the Eudora Welty branch and the Fannie Lou Hamer branch, highlighted the need for security. At Welty, a homeless individual who was under the influence of drugs came into the location and tore out two credit card machines. At the Hamer location, a 13-year-old boy brought a gun to the branch after he got into an altercation with an older man there, Furr said.
The library also requires two employees to be present at all times, in response to an incident at the Lois A. Flagg Library in Edwards. There, a patron attacked an employee because she thought the employee was trying to steal her boyfriend, Furr said.
The employee was working alone at the time.
Personnel expenses have been further exacerbated by the recent storms. Custodial workers must go to the Welty and Morris libraries after hours to empty the buckets used to collect rain water.
At Welty last week, several large trash cans had been set out to collect the storm water pouring onto the second floor.
“They’ll have to come up here at two in the morning and empty those buckets,” Furr said.
While employee costs have grown, Jackson-Hinds is receiving less money from the state to help with salaries.
Each year, the Mississippi Library Commission provides “direct personnel incentive grants” to libraries across the state to help cover wages.
For fiscal year 2017, the system received $292,000, down from $334,000 the year before, Furr said. Next year, the library is expected to receive around $284,000 from the state.
The budget year runs from October 1 to September 30.
To help cut contractual costs, library officials have begun doing cleaning and grass-cutting in-house.
“We … hired two extra custodial (workers),” Furr said.
While the system’s overall budget has grown by $2 million, its building-maintenance budget has remained flat and its books budget has gotten smaller.
In 2006, the library spent $95,200 on repairs and maintenance at its 15 locations, compared to $110,908 in 2016, audits show. That amount was about $7,000 short of what the library should have spent, based on inflation.
The system’s book budget has decreased by a third, while its newspapers and periodicals budget has dropped by nearly half. In 2006, Jackson-Hinds spent $305,000 on adults’ and children’s books, compared to just under $88,000 last year, audits say. The system spent another $15,000 on e-books, a spending category that did not exist for the library in 2006. Newspapers and periodicals expenses dropped as well, going from $73,380 to $45,527.
At the same time, the library’s computer budget has grown by six figures. In 2006, the system spent $186,481 on information technology, compared to $306,682 last year.
The Welty branch now offers a number of technology-related services, including free Internet service, free computer access and computer training classes for library card holders.
Last year, more than a third of system customers (309,000 people) visited libraries specifically for computer use.
“It’s one of the critical (services) that people can’t get elsewhere,” Furr said, adding that computer literacy classes offered at the library have helped patrons land jobs.
With little money for structural repairs or new buildings, the future of both the Welty and the Tisdale branches hang in the balance.
The system likely needs hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to restore Welty, a former Sears department store.
Leaks following the installation of a new roof there caused black mold to spread throughout the two-story building’s meeting rooms and administrative offices. Some employees, including Furr, are suffering respiratory problems as a result.
One of the library’s two emergency stairwells has also been shut off to visitors because of the leaks, while bricks on Welty’s exterior are beginning to pull away due to the excessive moisture.
Ironically, problems at the flagship location got worse after the city spent $700,000 to replace the library’s roof. BBMK, of Boca Raton, was hired to do the work, prior to Furr joining the system. City inspectors signed off on the project without Furr’s input.
“(The contractors) were supposed to add a metal cover over the parapet stones to stop water from coming in between the walls but it wasn’t done,” she said. “We had more buckets when it was first done (than before the roof was replaced).”
Furr said it would take at least $75,000, to cap the parapet stones.
That work, though, would not include black mold mitigation or other repairs.
Tisdale has been problematic since it was completed in 1971.
“(It) never should’ve been built. It has flooded since (it opened),” Furr said. “I found a plan from 1998 that said it should be torn down because the basement flooded so many times.”
The library purchased and installed sump pumps to remove storm water when it got in the basement. However, the pumps proved ineffective because the same storms that caused the flooding at the branch also caused power outages.
“We’ve replaced the sump pumps, We’ve gotten new gutters so it would send water away from the building and we’ve put on a new roof. We’ve tried so hard to keep (it) up,” Furr said.
Storms there usually resulted in one or two inches of rain flowing into the basement. However, storms from earlier this year caused about 18 inches of water to pour into the basement, exacerbating the black mold problem.
Because of the increase of black mold, the library had to be closed to patrons and staffers for health reasons.
Jackson-Hinds’ board of directors has signed off on relocating the branch to a new building on Chastain Drive. However, the measure has not been signed off on by the city council.
Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester said at a recent budget hearing the city needed to research the idea of raising taxes by one mill and setting that mill aside specifically for the library system.
The mill would generate about $1.1 million.
Ward Four Councilman De’Keither Stamps recommended moving the Tisdale branch to the former Metrocenter Mall, at least on a temporary basis.
Furr said that area of town is under served, but believes the Tisdale branch needs to stay in Northeast Jackson.
The system has several branches that are located in close proximity, but Furr believes each location should remain open to serve their individual communities. The Willie Morris branch, at 4912 Old Canton Rd., is only 1.1 miles from the Tisdale location. However, school children would have to cross a busy interstate to access it. The Medgar Evers branch is 4.6 miles away from Tisdale, out of walking distance for most school children.