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Library board taking steps in tough times

Friday, February 26, 2021
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Ask and you shall receive? Maybe the message in my last column was heard, because the Lincoln Parish Library Board of Control seems to be showing an increased sense of urgency in addressing a few key issues in this extremely consequential year for the library’s future.

Or maybe I’m overestimating my own voice, but that would be OK with me. Doesn’t matter how these things get done, so long as they do.

And those “things” are: evaluating the library’s finances in light of the message voters sent at the polls in December; identifying and communicating to the public the property tax rate that is needed to continue funding the library’s much-needed services, then getting it passed; and finally, finding a permanent director that will guide this institution into the future.

Each of these topics and more were addressed at the board’s latest meeting Wednesday, held a week late thanks to last week’s abnormal winter weather.

Most helpfully, the timeline for this next tax election was set in stone. The police jury will take its final vote about what millage rate to actually place on the Oct. 9 ballot during its April 13 meeting.

That means the library board is shooting for April 1 as its deadline to get a recommendation together for the jury on what the board believes it needs to fund the library.

No actual specifics or final votes were taken on the big topics Wednesday, so the work is far from over. But it was increasingly apparent that board members understand the precarious and urgent position the library is in and are working to come up with solutions in the next month or two.

The board’s two newest members, who had been assigned to head the search for a new director, presented their research on the matter and got the ball rolling on the big questions that have to be answered, such as salary, job description, and timing of the actual vacancy advertisement considering the library’s nebulous financial future.

It was evident that board freshman (and newly appointed vice president) Amy Miller had been doing her homework, not just on her director search assignment but on the tax situation and related issues as well. Thorough research and planning outside of meetings are needed in these times — this should not be a one-day-a-month gig.

The months-long, needlessly convoluted process the police jury and library board took to appoint Miller notwithstanding, adding a member with the experience and drive to put in the work on these tough topics seems to be a boon thus far.

As I said, the work is just beginning. Board members will soon be getting together with police jury finance officials next month to brainstorm budget-tightening measures, and it seems staff reduction is going to be a part of that.

As much as that hurts to consider — I love the library and don’t want to see its potency in the community reduced at all — some personnel cuts may be necessary to restructure the budget in any meaningful way and demonstrate to the voting public that the library is willing to meet them halfway.

I really hope there’s a reasonable middle ground somewhere that can satisfy taxpayers without compromising the library’s identity and the wonderful services it provides. I don’t want to see an understaffed facility that’s merely putting on a façade of functioning properly but, behind the scenes, is really crumbling from the cutbackinduced strain.

But I also obviously don’t want to see this institution crumble altogether with another loss at the polls.

The middle ground is going to take a lot of work to find, and officials don’t have that much time to find it. But Wednesday’s meeting showed signs that they’re taking steps in the right directions. Time will tell where those steps take them.

Caleb Daniel is the Ruston Daily Leader’s Digital News Editor. Caleb is a Louisiana Tech University graduate who covers the Lincoln Parish Police Jury and schools for the Ruston Leader.