By Nicole Stokes
A recurring theme for the Franklin County Board of Supervisors’ Monday, July 19 business meeting seemed to be a universal need for more money.
Director of the Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Library System Katrina Castilaw came with a request for additional funding in the upcoming budget cycle, which begins Oct. 1.
“I know, like everybody else who’s probably going to talk to you today, we’re all facing a lot of economic uncertainties and you have infinitely more complex problems to deal with than I have,” she said.
“My expertise is in public librarianship, not in all the different things that go into operating a county. So my responsibility to you, I feel, is to let you know what’s going on with the public library so you can fold all that into everything else you have to consider.
“I do have two financial problems — one is particular to Franklin County and one is system-wide. Just to give you a slight background, public libraries are considered a subdivision of the government, they have all the rules and regulations that a big state institution would have, but it’s just us, so we have to have a lot of expertise in different areas to meet financial and legal obligations.
“To go into a joint county system, you have to have a contract in order to establish yourself as a separate legal entity. So you have a contract with Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin. It’s a very old contract, but there’s never been any need to change it.
“In that contract, the agreement between the three counties was that the minimum funding each county would provide would be one mill. Unfortunately, because of the economic problems we’ve been having – especially since 2008 – Franklin County hasn’t been able to get us back up to the one mill level.
“That is going to start causing some problems for you, that’s what I want to make you aware of. You may not be able to do anything about it, but I at least want to let you know what’s going to happen potentially going forward. Because the other two counties are still able to maintain that we have some problems with some of the finances with the system.
“Just to give you a brief point of reference, about 10 years ago, I was working with another system and had the need to do some analysis about how much it would cost a county to independently run a public library system that was of quality, not just a ‘there’s books in a room and somebody checks them out.’
“It’s estimated for a one-person public library that it’s going to cost you about $120,000. Franklin County has two staff members in the building here and then you have the equivalent of a headquarter staff person – that’s the advantage of a joint system is you have the decreased cost with those specialized positions — so you’re looking at probably a $180,000 library cost that you’re able to get at roughly about $60,000.
“So it’s a fantastic return on investment. But, because we haven’t been able to get back up to a mill, it’s starting to hurt some things in the system. I just wanted to bring that out to you. No accusations … you know what the situation is. You just need to have that information to know what’s going on.
“The second problem we’re having is a system-wide problem. Even though I’ve worked in public library directorship since 2004, I’ve only been the director of this system for about four years.
“And one of the immediate things I encountered in that position is the realization that about half of the employees in the library system were only getting paid minimum wage or slightly above.
“So even if you disregarded the political interest in the increase of the minimum wage, given the skill set those employees are required to have to provide quality services to the public … that’s pretty much ethically just poor to pay somebody that’s working full-time minimum wage, and some of them have been there for eight or more years.
“Once it was brought to their attention, the trustees immediately began a strategic plan that we’ve been working on over the years to get those employees’ pay scales up.
“We have decreased our employee count from 21 to 16. That’s 13 full-time equivalents, and one of those is already scheduled to not be replaced when the position eventually is vacated.
“We’re trying to do all this (while) maintaining our current employees and the stability that they have at this time. In this plan, we have been able to get pay scales up slightly. Our pay scale is still dismal right now.
“In the next funding year with our current level of funding, we will be able to pay these employees $8.90 an hour. However, at our current level of funding – which only comes from county funding and whatever the cities operate, with the caveat that we can qualify for a grant from the state that helps some – the highest that we can get (the pay scale) at our current level is $9.39, and it would take us three more years to get it there.
“It’s bad. So, because the contract only requires the one mill, what we’re asking each of the counties to do is to increase their funding by five percent of their mill value this year and another five percent next year.
“So it would be like a $3,000 to $3,500 above the mill value this year and that amount again next year. That will take the immediate pressure off the situation and surely, by that time, whatever is going on in the political arena, we’ll know more about it and know (if) that (will) be enough to stabilize us for a while or (if) we (are) going to be just fighting a battle going forward.
“All of the counties have been respectful and I can see from your faces (how) shocked you are about the situation. Whether they’re in a financial position to address the situation is another story.
“So, if you are able to provide this funding what I would strongly recommend you do is provide a letter to the trustees that you are providing this funding with the understanding it would help stabilize the payroll situation for Franklin County.
“That way if one of the counties decides not to help with the funding, you’re not sending your money to support another county. Again, I know this is hard for y’all, I know you’ve got some difficult decisions so it’s not a judgment at all, it’s just the way things are, and it’s only fair to you to let you know what’s going on so that if hard decisions have to be made, you’re not caught by surprise by what happens.”
Copiah-Lincoln Community College President Dr. Jane Hulon Sims addressed the panel with a similar request, along with an update on various projects the college is involved in.
“Let me tell you I’m very pleased to say this is my fourth year as president of Co-Lin, and we are still going strong,” Sims said.
“I appreciate every opportunity to visit with the board each year and let you know what’s going on. It’s been a most unusual year at the college, but we’re still making progress and still getting major things done. I was very proud of the Co-Lin family and how we’ve been able to meet those COVID-19 challenges and keep everybody safe.
“We’re planning to return to normal this August for the fall semester unless something unforeseen happens, and we’re keeping an eye on it every single day.
“We’re very proud that Franklin County is a part of the Co-Lin district, and we want to make sure Co-Lin is the choice for the graduates from this part of our district. I need your help spreading that word to everybody.
“Our tuition continues to be very low. We’re one of the lowest in our part of the state. Even though we had a slight increase this time we believe that we are still a significant cost savings to parents and to students of this part of the state.
“Not to mention the thousands of dollars that you’ll save by going through us on the way to a university. It’s just a fact that your dollar goes a lot farther at Co-Lin.”
Sims went on to mention a new diesel lab built recently on the Natchez campus, a $6 million career-technical center built at the Simpson County campus and an eight-court tennis complex at the Wesson campus.
“We’re also thrilled to have brought soccer back to Co-Lin,” she continued.
“We are looking forward to a good year with them. I want to also take this opportunity to announce our latest project that we’re working on. It’s in the planning stages, and it is our Educational Performing Arts and Athletic Center in Wesson.
“It is a 2,000 seat performing arts venue and a 2,000 seat coliseum … under one roof. So stay tuned on our progress about that exciting project. We believe it’s an economic development opportunity for our part of the state. We’re trying to raise some money for Southwest Mississippi and get something exciting happening.
“I appreciate your support in increasing the millage that we get here and the amount that we get. I just need you to understand how critical it is that your dollars go to support Co-Lin. We need every one of them.
“Thank you for what we get, and we respectfully ask you to consider giving us some more. We want to continue to be the economic development partner with Franklin County and help to bring new business and industry here, or help to build up what’s already here. We think we have a great relationship and it can only get better.
“Thank you so much for your time and attention. We think Co-Lin is a special place and we think it’s a wise investment of your dollars and I hope you would agree with me on that.”
Supervisors did not commit to supplying extra funds to the library or Co-Lin at the meeting, but will be going over the county’s finances and creating the budget for the next fiscal year in the near future, with the first work session for the supervisors’ budget held yesterday (Wednesday, July 21).
Also at Monday’s meeting, the board of supervisors:
• Approved the payment of $22,737 to T. L. Wallace Construction Company for Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund Project-19(02), which is the Davis Hill Road bridge replacement.
• Authorized the signing of a contract with Waycaster & Associates for architectural services for roof upgrades at the Extension Service Office and Museum building in Meadville.
• Approved payment to Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance in the amounts of $250 for a $50,000 bond for Otis Dyer and $263 statement for a $75,000 bond for Erica Havard.
The board’s next regularly scheduled business meeting will be held at 9 a.m., Monday, August 2. The session is open to the public.