Council waits to take action on funding

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Selma Times Journal

Community members filled the Selma City Council Chambers Monday night to hear what the council would decide about paying utilities for the Selma-Dallas County Public Library.

Two petitions were brought by citizens; one to immediately restore utility funding to the city’s library, the other, to go on record as being against the first petition and asking that the county pay more toward the library to near “its 50 percent joint obligation.”

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The council decided to table any action to restore utility funding to the library until other avenues were explored and discussions were concluded.

Councilpersons expressed an interest in taking care of the library, but also expressed reservations about picking up the tab at present, commenting that even a month-to-month commitment to pay the utility bills at this point might commit them perpetually to being responsible for the bills.

Councilwoman Jean Martin stated that Head Librarian Becky Nichols and Mayor James Perkins Jr. had met with State Sen. Hank Sanders and would again, and that discretionary funding had been restored to the legislature.

Discretionary funding covering education would apply to the library, it is hoped, and Martin noted that Nichols thought it was fair to wait until it was determined how much would be received before voting on funding the library’s utility bills.

Martin also stated that Nichols was working on extended library operating hours, but felt security should be provided. Martin said security was appropriate for evening hours at the library.

This month, Nichols is paying utility bills with computer funds and does not know how long she’ll be able to continue.

Council President George Evans said, “citizens should talk to Becky Nichols instead of bashing the council.”

The mayor said the county was paying 50 percent of library costs until he stepped into office.

“Then they started paying 25 percent. We asked them: ‘Would you please consider a 55-45 percent split?’ The commission said absolutely not,” Perkins said.

“We cut the library budget because you as citizens said: ‘Balance the Budget.’ When we took the $80,000 out, we separated the meters, and suggested to the county they step up and do more and that the library do more to raise funds, too. We’re still asking the county to step up and do something,” Perkins said. “We told them if you do half, we’ll meet you halfway. The county voted 3-2 against the funding, then this group started running around asking the city to pay all of the utilities. I don’t respond well to this kind of pressure. We have a government to run, just like the county.”

At the meeting’s opening, Gene Hisel, a former mayoral candidate, presented a petition bearing nearly a quarter of the city’s population worth of signatures – 4,670 – requesting that funding be restored immediately to the library’s budget.

“Save our library!” was the conclusion a child voiced at the podium.

Councilmember Reid Cain later acknowledged the large number as an outcry by the citizenry and motioned to reinstate funding.

“The city has always funded the library – since 1994,” Cain said. “One year, the funding was cut to help with the remodeling of the St. James Hotel, otherwise, the library’s been funded by the city. People are saying anything (about county involvement), but the numbers don’t match up. We’ve already explored options and nothing has come. It is a great disrespect of the citizens of our city to not fund the utilities.”

A petition formed by the Concerned Citizens For Progress, a seven-member group consisting of Dr. Fred Reese, Ezekiel Pettway, Rev. Rodney Morton, Dr. Charles Lett, Rev. Greg Williams, Terry Armstrong and Dr. L.L. Ruffin, stated opposition to the first petition presented because no similar petition was made to the Dallas County Commission.

The seven stated in writing that the county has $90,000 in unappropriated funds available that could be used to pay half of the utility costs for the library.

Councilpersons Sam Randolph, Jannie Venter, Bennie Crenshaw and Johnnie Leashore expressed concerns about funding library utilities after the mayor expressed his opinion that no action should be taken.

“We will wait and see what the Senate will do. Restoring it tonight will be a disrespect to our mayor,” Venter said.

“After all the information we’ve heard tonight, I will not vote until we hear from the legislature,” Crenshaw said.

Councilman Cecil Williamson said the funding was taken out because the city had lacked the funding, not because of disputes with the county.

“This year we have the money. We’re the ones who cut the funding. We should restore it,” Williamson said.

Councilwoman Geraldine Allen said, “I listen to all the constituents. If Becky Nichols is willing to wait, then I think we should wait.”