City council directs legal department to review library agreement

By ANTHONY WARREN,

If the Jackson City Council has its way, other cities in Hinds County could soon help foot the bill for library services.

The council is looking into amending the interlocal agreement governing the Jackson-Hinds Library System.

The council recently directed the legal department to review the document, after learning Jackson residents are the only ones in the county who are taxed twice to fund library operations.

“We have to work this out. There should be a win-win solution for everybody,” said Ward Four Councilman De’Keither Stamps. “The solution is out there – we just have to work together to find it.”

Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote also wants to see the city and county come up with an equitable solution.

“We need to revisit (the agreement) and make sure it’s fair to Jackson funding-wise and otherwise,” Foote said.

Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay said the conversation is all the more important as the city grapples with how to pay for repairs to the Eudora Welty Library.

Welty is the system’s flagship, but was temporarily closed by the state fire marshal last month because of numerous fire safety violations.

It’s first floor was reopened to patrons on October 12.

“The administration and the council are looking for solutions,” Lindsay said. “The conversation is not over.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba had not responded to the Sun’s request for a comment at press time.

Jackson-Hinds is governed by a nine-page interlocal agreement that was approved by the city council and board of supervisors in 1986.

Prior to the agreement, the county and city had separate systems.

Under provisions of the deal, the county and city agreed to contribute equal amounts each year to cover the system’s operations.

Jacksonians pay property taxes to the county, which go to support the system, as well as property taxes to Jackson, which also go toward the system’s annual budget.

No other municipality in the county provides a dedicated funding source for the library, meaning Jackson residents are helping to keep library branches open not only in the capital city, but in Clinton, Byram, Terry, Edwards and Utica.

Since 2010, Jackson has contributed $14.4 million to the system, while the county has contributed $12.5 million, library documents show.

This year, Jackson will dedicate 1.8 mills, or a little more than $2 million to the system.

Monies go into a large pot and are used to fund operations, salaries, book and technology purchases and maintenance at all branches.

The agreement created Jackson-Hinds to last for perpetuity, but gives either party authority to dissolve the system each year on September 30, as long as the other party is given 60 days’ written advanced notice.

City leaders do not want to see the system dissolved, but would rather work on an agreement that would be mutually beneficial.

“I don’t want to put in jeopardy the library resources for the whole county. As the capital city, we have a responsibility for everybody, not just the capital city,” Stamps said. “We don’t want a win-lose situation. We want to do what’s best for all parties involved.”

 

The agreement, though, is no longer in Jackson’s best interest. When it was approved, Jackson had nearly 30,000 more residents and a much larger tax base.

Three decades later, the capital city’s population has dropped to 169,000 and property and sales tax revenues have declined.

The city council has increased property taxes two years in a row to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s population has grown by about 3,000 since 1986, while Byram, which was an unincorporated area at the time the agreement was approved, today is a city of 11,000 people.

“We need the mayors to come together and work on a shared solution,” Stamps said. “You don’t have a Clinton without a Jackson. We have to work together.”

Stamps, who is chair of the budget committee, suggests cities should contribute based on their libraries’ operating costs.

“We need to identify, what does it cost to run each facility? What’s the operation cost of each facility and what’s the contribution of that municipality?” he said. “Let’s start there.”

Hinds County board attorney Pieter Teeuwissen suggested the board of supervisors look into it at a meeting in October.

“Byram wasn’t incorporated at the time. Clinton is in a different position today,” he said. “The population has shifted. Resources have shifted. Basically, it would be a good time to look at the agreement.”

Teeuwissen said one way to take politics out of the conversation would be to allow the library board to come up with a solution.

Jackson-Hinds is governed by a 14-member board of trustees, with seven members each appointed by the city council and board of supervisors.

Duties of the trustees include drawing up rules for governing the system, managing and maintaining library properties, and making recommendations to the city and county concerning the operation of the system.

Jackson-Hinds has 15 libraries, eight in the city and seven in the county. Of the county libraries, one branch each is located in Clinton, Byram, Terry (1,112 residents), Raymond (2,220), Edwards (1,006) and Utica (869), according to the system’s Web site.

Changes to the agreement would have to be approved by the board of supervisors and council, and confirmed by the Mississippi attorney general, Teeuwissen said.

Library Board Chair Rosalyn Sylvester couldn’t be reached for comment.

No time frame had been set to determine when or if the agreement would be changed.

 

 

 

 

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