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Library funds in jeopardy

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen has started discussing ways to prevent the library from losing a big chunk of its state funding because of previous city actions.

Mayor Jake Middleton said unless the city can claim a local hardship that forced an across-the-board budget cut to every department, the city must pay the library $18,000 it cut from the library budget in order for the library to receive $88,000 from the state.

George W. Armstrong Library Director Susan Cassagne spoke about the issue at Thursday’s Kiwanis meeting.

Cassagne said the library is in jeopardy of losing its state funding from the Mississippi Library Commission through a Personnel Incentive Grant Program because of cuts made by the city.

“(The Natchez Board of Aldermen’s) actions jeopardized (the library’s) state funding,” Cassange said.

The Mississippi Library Commission’s PIGP requires libraries show a “maintenance of effort” of local income, Cassagne said.

If local governments reduce funding to the library by 2 percent, it can result in the loss of all funds the library receives from the PIGP grant.

At Tuesday’s aldermen finance meeting, City Clerk Donnie Holloway said he would check to see if the city could prove all departments cut their budgets by 5 percent as requested by the city, thereby proving a hardship.

Cassagne said at Thursday’s Kiwanis meeting the city could not prove a hardship.

“The city can make no such claim,” Cassagne said.

Cassagne said she was not sure by what date the city must find a solution before the library’s 2011 budget is jeopardized.

Ward 1 Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she wanted to find out if other cities are having the same issue.

“I’m sure this is not the only library that is facing this,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields said he guesses cuts to other libraries were made to help fill financial gaps as a result of the recent national recession.

Middleton said the board should plan to attend a work session to discuss the library and other budget issues.

Arceneaux-Mathis said the board should act soon.

“This is April … every time we get to the budget, if we wait until September it will be too late,” she said.

A letter to Cassagne from Christy Williams, the administrative and grant programs director for the library commission, says the PIGP grant paid for 29 percent of employee salaries at the Armstrong Library in the fiscal year 2010.

At a Sept. 14, 2010, aldermen meeting, Cassagne said she discovered the library would be receiving $255,000 from the city, the same amount of funding the library received last year, but at a reduced millage.

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.

If the city gives the library the $18,000 it lost when the millage rate was reduced, it will show a good faith effort that the city continued to fund the library at the same level, Cassagne said, which could enable the library to receive the PIGP grant monies.

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