George Armstrong Library responds to cuts in funding

Published 1:47 am Sunday, October 3, 2010

NATCHEZ — In response to a reduced city millage, the Armstrong Library has reduced its hours, staff and resources.

Armstrong Library Director Susan Cassagne said the cuts were especially difficult to make — because a blow to funding came as a surprise.

At a Sept. 14 Natchez Alderman meeting, Cassagne discovered the library would be receiving $255,000, the same amount of funding the library received last year.

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However, just 16 days before the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year, the library’s budget was built to reflect the same millage funding as the year before.

Cassagne said when it became obvious that a higher property assessment meant a more valuable mill and more dollars for the library — the city reduced library’s millage rate from 2.575 mills to 2.25 mills.

While the unexpected millage reduction was a misunderstanding, Cassagne said the cuts to the dedicated millage are disheartening.

Cassagne said she understands the city is cutting across the board partially due to a national economic downturn — but the library’s funding has been too low for years.

The library also suffered $12,600 in state grant funding cuts during this past year from the library personnel incentive grant program.

After learning of the reduced millage rate, Cassagne said the library was forced to cut one part-time circulation clerk. A second part-time circulation clerk was let go earlier in the year due to state cuts.

The library received $90,000 from the state for 2010, which is 29 percent of its budget, Cassagne said.

Hours were also cut.

The library now closes one hour earlier Monday-Wednesday and Fridays, when it is now open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Doors also open one hour later Saturdays, with hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday hours will continue to remain 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Overdue book fines have increased from 10 cents to 15 cents per day late, and copying and printing fees have increased from 15 cents to 25 cents.

Cassagne said the library’s administrative board of trustees, appointed by the mayor and board of aldermen authorized the new charges to deal with budget cuts.

Some resources have also been cut.

Cassagne said magazine subscriptions have been cut in half to save $1,200 annually. Titles lost include The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, Education Digest, Psychology Today, Oprah and several others.

The library can no longer afford full online access and print subscriptions to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal newspapers, which total $1,300 annually.

The library still has subscriptions to USA Today, nationally and The Concordia Sentinel, The Natchez Democrat, The Clarion Ledger and an online subscription to the The Baton Rouge Advocate.

The library has also had to cut its annual $700 subscription to Worldbook Encyclopedia.

Cassagne said the library has been allocated $255,000 from the city for 12 years since 1998, making it difficult to expand with higher costs of materials and new technology.

Cassagne said herself and her administrative assistant often apply for grants, which has helped them acquire a lot of great improvements — but those costs are not stable because they are often one-time chunks of money.

“Those mills they took from the library and put into some other funds — that has been most difficult part to accept.

“I see need for services we provide, and I have a feeling the city doesn’t appreciate, or isn’t aware and doesn’t understand (the impact of) that that decision,” Cassagne said.