Both the City of Southaven and the First Regional Library (FRL) system doubled down and further explained their positions regarding a recent announcement the FRL would be cutting its hours at the M.R. Davis Public Library in Southaven and cited cuts in the city’s annual funding as the reason.
Beginning Dec. 16, the Southaven Library would be open Monday-Saturday at 10 a.m. The library will close at 6 p.m. on Monday-Wednesday, 8 p.m. on Thursday, and at 6 p.m. on Friday. The library will close at 5 p.m. on Saturday and be closed completely on Sunday.
The facility is currently open until 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 6 p.m. on Friday, until 5 p.m. on Saturday, and open Sunday afternoons from 2-5 p.m.
The Fiscal Year 2020 budget will see the City of Southaven provide the library $300,000 as its contribution, down from the $330,000 given the library in the last fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and is the reason Executive Director Meredith Wickham cited as the library’s contention for reductions.
Wickham said Southaven is one of the few municipalities in the system that cut its contribution. Walls cut $750, which Wickham said would be covered by not repairing or replacing a computer. Como’s reduction of $2,000 is being covered by an endowment.
“Most of the DeSoto County cities gave us increases for this fiscal year,” Wickham said. “Olive Branch gave us our requested increase, Hernando gave us our requested increase and Horn Lake gave us a portion of our requested increase to cover increased costs.”
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite said the city was disappointed in the service reductions for the coming year but felt the city’s reduction should not shoulder the blame.
“The City’s annual contribution equates to only 5.74 percent of the First Regional Library’s total revenues and the FY ‘20 budget cut from $330,000 last year to $300,000 this year equates to about one-half of one percent of their last posted statement of total revenues, $5,224,582,” Musselwhite said. “State budget cuts from 2015-2018 (last year posted) have totaled $279,322, which equates to 5.35 percent of their total revenues and about six times more than the City’s cuts.”
Wickham countered by saying the two funders for the Southaven library are the city and DeSoto County and money earmarked elsewhere cannot go to cover Southaven’s shortfall.
“DeSoto County, since FY 2015, has gradually raised its contribution and this year their contribution was flat, so there was no change for each of the libraries across DeSoto County or to First Regional Library,” Wickham said. “Dollars that come from a specific city need to go to that specific city. Dollars from Horn Lake cannot go to Southaven, for instance.”
Wickham went on to say the reduction in hours was a better option over losing more personnel.
“In the case of Southaven, what happened, unfortunately, was that we had to lay off a person,” Wickham explained. “We took cuts here and there, small amounts, so the public won’t feel that. The majority was that was covered by laying off a person.”
She went on to explain the board’s decision to cut hours after the layoff took place.
“We did the layoff policy where the last person hired is the first person to be laid off,” Wickham said. “We then faced the remaining staff hours and sat with a schedule to determine how to cover the different shifts. We need a certain amount of people to operate, for security and to cover this 33,000 square-foot building. The reality is that money had to come from the Southaven Library, there was no where else to take it from.”
Local government contributions to FRL have grown from $3.969 million in Fiscal Year 2015 to $4.376 million in Fiscal Year 2018, but state government contributions have been cut from $966,164 in Fiscal Year 2015 to $686,842 in Fiscal Year 2018, reported by City Administrator Chris Wilson after reviewing online audit reports of the library system. FRL represents libraries in DeSoto, Lafayette, Panola, Tate and Tunica counties and municipalities in those counties.
Wickham countered by saying the contributions in Southaven have significantly been cut the last few years.
“Southaven cut us $30,000 this year and in 2017 they had already cut us $20,000, so we’re now operating with $50,000 less per year than we were as of Fiscal Year 2017,” Wickham said. “Their contribution is $300,000 this year. They were at $330,000 and at the start of FY 2018, when they cut us the first time in October 2017, we were at $350,000.”
Musselwhite explained the city had to make tough decisions to place money in other areas, which determined they needed to pull back on their contribution.
“The City is responsible for making sound financial decisions each year to meet ever-changing demands for all municipal services and must set priorities accordingly,” said Musselwhite. “Specifically, this year’s budget provided significant, increased funding for our Police department to address the challenges of hiring and retaining quality officers as well as the addition of emergency dispatchers. The City has adopted a new budget for Fiscal Year ‘20 that meets all of these needs, including a continued commitment to the library.”
Wickham said FRL is dependent on the contributions from the cities and counties to operate.
“We can’t borrow money, we can’t sell property, we’re not allowed by Mississippi law to even own our own building,” said Wickham. “Every building we operate out of has to be owned either by the municipality that operates and wants the library system or by the county. We’re not allowed to own any library buildings by Mississippi law. Each municipality basically has to commit to want the libraries in their communities.”
Wickham added FRL pays for gas and water for the Southaven library, but again that money comes from the city’s contribution to the library, along with the county’s share to it.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.