Library among services that could be cut

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 21, 2004

For City of Selma officials, agencies and employees, it certainly appears budget cuts are coming.

For the Selma/Dallas County Public Library, rumors are swirling about how much, if any of the library’s city funding is on the chopping block.

“I’m expecting a miracle,” Librarian Becky Nichols said. “My prime directive is delivering service. We’re about the business of library service, we know the cost of delivering. We have consistently delivered for the last 10 years for the same budget and the same revenue. My priority right now is to continue.”

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Rumors began circulating prior to the previous Selma City Council meeting that the library’s city funding, as much as $332,147 last year, including cigarette tax money and utility bills was targeted for reduction.

Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., who is in the process of attempting to balance he city’s budget, admits there has been discussion about adjusting the city’s funding to the library.

Perkins says there have been discussions about asking the county, which gave about $115,000 to the library last year according to city records, to step up their funding.

“I’ve asked the city council to form a committee to go talk to a committee of the county commission,” Perkins said. “All we’re suggesting is the county steps up and does their fare share.”

Council President George Evans believes the county will listen to the city’s proposal.

“I think they’ll be receptive, I don’t know what their financial status is,” Evans said. “I think there are county residents as well as city residents that use the library. It would seem to me, it would be a wonderful thing if we could split that down the middle.”


a conversation, the mayor says, that has been going on in the city for 20 years.

Perkins provided minutes from City Council meetings in the middle 1980’s in which former Mayor Joe T. Smitherman.

In the Oct. 13, 1986 meeting, the minutes say Smitherman said the city gave close to $100,000 to the library while the county matched with $50,000.

“The city and the county are supposed to match funds, but the mayor said really the city is supporting a city/county library,” the minutes state.

Dallas County Probate Judge John Jones didn’t want to go into too many details on the issue on Friday, instead he promised to fully address the issue during the County Commission’s 4 p.m. meeting on Monday.

“We have the library budgeted for $115,000 which is a pretty strong appropriation for us,” Jones said. “What the mayor doesn’t have in his minutes is it was understood that we would provide a little more money for other agencies. These are things we kind of worked through with the city (in those days).”

Supporters of the library have flocked to Nichols, and other outlets to express their concern.

“They take this personally. In a town that is getting every bad headline in the world,

you have one bright light downtown. One person said to me, ‘Why cut the good things?'” Nichols said. “The general consensus has been overwhelming in response to the library. I feel sure that the politicians have heard that.”

Perkins has.

“I understand and appreciate Becky and all of their passion that they’re doing with this thing,” Perkins said. “But I’m the guy in the seat that has to figure out how to balance the budget. The only thing we are saying is this is a city/ county library. All we’re suggesting is the county steps up and does their fare share.”

Jones however says the county gives what it can but has no control over what the city chooses to give.

“I don’t understand why the city thinks this is such an issue,” Jones said. “They set the budget for their library, we didn’t.”

Perkins says it’s unfair to criticize the city for cutting funding in a budget when they’re already paying two-thirds more than the county.

“I’ve really been trying to keep it toned down but it kind of bothers me when people consistently say the city needs to do more or that the city is cutting my budget when they have not addressed the issue of the county not paying (as much),” he said. “I guess the county’s doing what they can. I don’t know but at least let’s have the discussion.”

For Nichols and the rest of the staff at the library, it’s a waiting game while the process works itself out.

“I’ve just kept my mind on delivering the services and going on and planning. I’ve already planned children’s programs to the year 2005,” Nichols said. “We just had to keep our focus on the traffic here and the needs of the people.”

“The library certainly is one of our most important elements in Selma from the standpoint that it’s educational,” Evans said. “Knowing how to read and learning is powerful. They can go to the library, get a book and read about the things that happen in this world. I just trust and hope that we can find a way to better serve all the people and everybody give their help in that.”

Nichols added that she understands the budget situation across the country is tight and if cuts are coming, the library is willing to do it’s fair share, but she points out the board already passed their budget for this fiscal year.

“Our board passed the same budget it has used for the last 10 years in October, we assumed that all revenues would be the same,” she said. “I had heard nothing from the city that would indicate such a massive cut.”

Though Nichols heard speculation of how much a cut would be, she said a meeting with several city council members eased her fears.

“I have had some very positive conversations with city council members. I have spoken to them personally,” she said. “I have been wonderfully encouraged of their understanding of the public library. The mayor has never been anything but supportive to the library. The response I have gotten has always been praise and support.”

Nichols added that a massive cut could damage the library and education in the county irreparably.

“It’s like bringing a car that’s been going 65 MPH down an interstate to a stop,” she said. “It’s going to be a lurching, screeching halt.

Once we’ve taken that step back, we’ll never regain it.”

Still, Nichols says she hopes the funding issue will be solved.

“I’m expecting a miracle,” she said.