Supporters of the Athens-Limestone Public Library are asking the Limestone County Commission to reconsider a reduction of the library’s fiscal 2020 appropriation, which was cut by $30,000 compared to the previous year.
At their meeting Monday, commissioners didn’t commit to any budget revisions, but some did say county officials are looking at possible options. Last month, the commission approved a fiscal 2020 budget that gave the library a special appropriation of $50,000, down from $80,000 in fiscal 2019. The library had requested $135,000 from the county, and is seeking that same amount from the Athens City Council.
“We are looking at options for the library,” said Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “We’re working on a plan.”
Among those who addressed the commission was 15-year-old Rhiannon Knight, a student at Athens Renaissance School, who would like for the commission to restore level funding for the library and even consider giving it the amount it had requested.
The library provides a place with “a family-like atmosphere” for community residents to gather and provides programs like a story time for children with special needs, Knight said after the meeting.
“It’s a great source of information to those who can’t access the internet from home,” said Knight, who was a library volunteer during the summer.
“The library is not just a library, it’s a community center,” said Jim Hickman, who lives in eastern Limestone County.
District 3 Commissioner Jason Black applauded Knight’s address to the commission. Black said the commission is considering several ideas for the library.
“We will have a report and some information we’ll give to the public," he said.
District 4 Commissioner Ben Harrison, who is a member of the Athens-Limestone Public Library Foundation, said he supported level funding for the library at $80,000.
“There’s a possibility of doing budget revisions,” even after an annual budget is approved, he said. “We can always do budget revisions.”
Paula Laurita, the library's executive director, said after the meeting that the library’s board of directors hasn’t finalized a budget yet. The library’s annual budget is roughly $600,000, according to Laurita.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” she said. “We can’t buy any books right now. We’re not going to make any drastic decisions until we know where we stand. We’re hoping for the best, planning for the future.
“But the board of trustees can’t formally approve a budget at this time.”
Total library income for fiscal 2019 was $617,325, the budget shows, with the city of Athens providing $130,000; Limestone County, $80,000; state revenue, $87,000; and Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax revenue, $85,000. Other revenue from sources such as fines, photocopying, vending, room rental, Friends of the Library and library foundation totaled $51,300, according to the budget.
Grant money added $45,500 in revenue, the budget shows, and interest from an endowment fund was budgeted at $138,525.
Laurita said the library has requested a waiver from the Alabama Public Library Service, which distributes state funding, asking that it not reduce its state funding by the same amount as the county’s funding cut.
Laurita, who has met with Daly and District 2 Commissioner Steve Turner since the budget vote, said she understands that county officials have “a finite amount of money and a lot of requests for that money.”