A potential funding crisis looms over the Twin Lakes Library System that serves Baldwin County residents.

Milledgeville and Baldwin County officials disagree on the library-funding portion of a service delivery plan the city-county comprehensive plan requires. The disagreement has forced negotiations between city and county officials over who will pay how much, which has left the library system and its patrons on a waiting list.

The city presently funds 89 percent or $507,516 of the library system’s $681,289 annual operating budget. The library also receives about $7,000, or roughly 1 percent of its funding from the Baldwin County Board of Education and about $35,000, or 5 percent of its budget, from the state. The remaining 5 percent, or nearly $35,000, is generated in-house through fines and fees for various services plus donations. In addition to base revenue, fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Library supplement the library’s budget.

The county is not responsible for any library system funding.

The disparity between the two entities over library system funding is the result of agreements made in 1981 in which the city and county each took singular responsibility for departments that both municipalities had mutually funded.

“The city feels there is an equity problem with only the city funding the library system,” Twin Lakes Library System Director Barry Reese said. “The city hopes the county will take over some of the funding.”

City and county officials met Wednesday morning intent on ironing out a compromise to which all sides involved would agree.

“We left the meeting with some specific options affecting both the city and county. Right now we are assessing the those options, and I’m sure our colleagues in the courthouse are doing the same thing,” City Manager Scott Wood said. “We expect to get back together soon to continue progress toward a mutually agreeable solution.”

County Manager Joan Minton said she can understand the city’s perspective on the funding issue, but the county maintains the funding plan cemented 27 years ago is correct and equitable.

“Our position hasn’t changed, but when negotiating, we’re trying to find middle ground on all issues,” Minton said.

But Wood feels city taxpayers are getting a raw deal by paying nearly the total cost of a service that both city and county residents use.

“The city’s position is that the library is not a city service, it is a city and county service,” Wood said. “The funding should not be born principally by the city taxpayer.”

Wood added that there are no services that are paid for solely by county taxpayers as all city residents must pay county taxes in addition to those levied by the city.

“I live in the city, but every year I get a county tax bill,” Wood said.

Each side hopes to avoid mediation and a potential court battle if the city and county fail to work out the differences on their own.

When interviewed Wednesday, Wood and Minton agreed that negotiations have accrued no personal animosity and that they both hope to avoid a costly dispute resolution that would force them to hire third-party mediators.

Minton hopes the two sides can reach an agreement by April 1.

Potential impact

The city wants to cut its portion of library funding by 20 percent or $101,503, Reese said, adding that such a shortfall would put the library at a distinct disadvantage.

“According to state code, the budget must be equal or greater than the previous year or [the library system] will lose all state funding,” Reese said.

The loss of roughly $169,000 funded by the state, in addition to a $101,503 cut from the city, would tear open a huge hole in a library system budget that hasn’t seen any increase in seven years.

The funding cut would mean a drastic reduction in library services, Reese said.

Losing state funding would eliminate access to the statewide library system, the GALILEO system and Internet access altogether. The state provides the library system with its high-speed Internet connection at a cost of approximately $10,000 a year.

A withdrawal from the statewide library system also would make the Twin Lakes System ineligible for federal grants and programs such as its Vacation Reading Program. The reduction of 70 percent of the library system’s staff and closure of its Lake Sinclair branch are the most troubling aspects of a funding shortfall, Reese sad.

Meanwhile, patrons are slowly learning about potential cutbacks in library services.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I can remember going to story time as a kid when the library was in a different location,” Milledgeville resident Bridget Hodgman said. “I’d hate that I can’t [bring my child] to baby time because of a funding cutback.”

Robbi Blackerby of Milledgeville takes her 10-month-old child to the library once or twice a month for story time.

“It’s good as a stay-at-home mom to meet other stay-at-home mothers and have some adult contact,” Blackerby said. “Kids need books to read and adults need books and research materials as well.”

But Mario Jackson, who visits the library two or three times a week thinks the funding shortfall wouldn’t have too much impact on the community as long as the library remains open.

“The library is something to do, if the hours were cut it wouldn’t be too bad as long as it can remain open,” Jackson said. “On certain days, the library is like a hangout spot, with many people reading, on the computers or on the phone.”

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