Double TaxedBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Jackson residents paying twice to keep all libraries open
Jackson taxpayers are helping to keep the Clinton library open, but don’t expect that city to return the favor any time soon.
The capital city is the only municipality in Hinds County that provides dedicated millage to the Jackson-Hinds Library System. This is in addition to what Jacksonians pay into the county in the form of property taxes, which also go to support the libraries.
And despite being asked personally by the library’s systems executive director for assistance, Clinton officials have refused to help.
“I stopped e-mailing about it. When I send e-mails and don’t get a response, I give up,” Executive Director Patty Furr said.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s tax base is shrinking and its own library buildings are falling apart.
Last week, the state fire marshal shut down the Eudora Welty Library in downtown Jackson for numerous fire violations, and earlier this year, the Charles Tisdale Library on Northside Drive was closed because of black mold.
By contrast, Clinton’s tax base remains steady, and residents there have a state-of-the-art, $8 million library facility.
Clinton officials argue the city of more than 25,000 shouldn’t pay into the system until the debt to build that facility is retired.
Jackson and Hinds County leaders, though, say it’s time for other cities to pay their fair share.
Jackson-Hinds was formed in 1986, when the city and county entered into an interlocal funding agreement.
Under the deal, all libraries in Jackson and Hinds County would be put under one umbrella and would be funded jointly by the city and county.
Today, the system has 15 branches, including eight in the capital city.
Since 2010, Jackson has contributed more than $14.7 million to the library, while the county has contributed more than $12.5 million, according to budget data.
When the agreement was signed, Jackson had nearly 30,000 more residents and a much larger tax base.
Today, Jackson can barely pay its bills. The city council approved tax increases in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to stave off dwindling revenue.
The county has similar problems. Census figures show that between 1990 and 2016, the county’s population has dropped by 21,000 residents.
This year, the county also raised taxes, in part, to address federal mandates to repair its jail and youth detention facility and to make up for state cuts in road money.
In the same time, Clinton’s population has grown by about 3,000 people. And Byram, which was not incorporated when Jackson-Hinds was formed, today is the county’s third-largest city, with 11,000 residents.
“We definitely need some help,” said District One Supervisor Robert Graham. “We have too many needs at the library (and not enough money). I will bring this up at a future board meeting.”
Graham said he would look in to how other cities could contribute to the system and whether the Jackson-Hinds agreement would have to be changed to allow it.
Jackson Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote is planning to speak to library officials to find out more information.
“I don’t know enough about the particulars, (but) we do need to make sure everyone is paying their fair share,” he said.
Furr doesn’t recommend changing the interlocal agreement, but agrees with Foote and Graham that other cities should contribute.
“If we could get Clinton to give $5,000 for books that would make a big difference,” she said. “Even if Byram and Terry gave us $500 (each) for books, it would help a lot.”
However, chances that Clinton would contribute seem unlikely.
“My first year here, I tried to negotiate a usage agreement with Clinton and I couldn’t get one,” Furr said. “The mayor and (city) attorney wouldn’t sign off.”
The agreement would have specified items that Clinton would pay for, versus items that would be covered by the system.
Furr had also spoken to the mayor of Byram, who she said would look at allocating millage to the system. However, no funds had been allocated at press time.
Clinton Communications Director Mark Jones said the mayor and city clerk were not aware of any usage agreement, and said the city contributes to the library system in other ways, including paying for the construction of the $8 million Quisenberry Library.
“That’s a state-of-the-art building with a $600,000 note,” he said.
Byram Mayor Richard White couldn’t be reached for comment.
Furr has not approached either city in recent years, in part, because she said the funding agreement with county doesn’t allow it.
The library director was referring to the county’s “dual funding agreement,” which County Attorney Pieter Teeuwissen said is designed to prohibit groups from “double-dipping.”
“The idea is if they were to go to Clinton, Byram or Utica to ask for money, they’d be asking the same taxpayers who are already supporting Hinds County,” Teeuwissen said.
However, he said groups can ask the board of supervisors for an exemption, and said one was recently granted for the Jackson Zoological Park.
“With the cuts from the state, it would probably be a legitimate time to do that,” he said. “I certainly would encourage it.”
The system receives an annual allocation from the Mississippi Library Commission to help cover employee salaries and benefits. This year, that allocation was slashed by $100,000.
Furr, who was not aware the library could be exempted, said she would make that request to the board.
This year, Jackson will allocate 1.8 mills, or a little more than $2 million, to the system.
The city council increased library millage from 1.76 to 1.8 mills as part of the 2018 budget to help the system make up for state funding cuts.
The county dedicates 0.93 mills, or approximately $1.6 million, which is paid by all home and property owners in the county, including those in Jackson.
The board of supervisors also approved giving the library an extra $17,000 this year to help make up for state reductions, Graham said.
Funds from Jackson and Hinds County go into a large pot and are used to buy books, periodicals and computers, and to pay for staff at branches throughout the system.
The monies also go to providing armed guards at all Jackson locations, Furr said.
The system began contracting with a private security firm a couple of years ago after a drive-by shooting at one location. Other incidents have also highlighted the need for security. An individual who police say was under the influence of drugs tore out two credit card machines at the Welty branch. And at the Fannie Lou Hamer location, a 13-year-old boy brought a gun to the library after he got into an altercation with an older man there, Furr said.
“One thing Jackson is paying for is to be safe,” Furr said. “If we don’t have a guard there, we don’t open the building. It’s that critical.”