I had a straightforward question this week for Hancock County library’s top staff: what would it take to reopen the East Hancock branch?
Their answer was just as straightforward: no less than $300,000 in funding, a book budget, a building cured of mildew problems, and commitment to funding East Hancock from now on without dropping below the level needed.
Here’s some background and history that all should know:
Though named the Hancock County Library System, ours has always been a city-county system, chartered as such from its inception as a public library in the 60’s when its name was City-County Public Library. Prior to that, while it was privately funded, the city and county had begun working together to help ensure its services as early as 1933 when Mrs. Louise Crawford opened the Bay St. Louis City-County Library on Hancock Bank’s second floor. The city donated a stove, fuel, rug, partial funding for an encyclopedia, and a janitor while the county provided lumber, general supplies, and workmen to build the shelves. Claims today that the county should do all the funding because it’s a county system are simply mistaken.
Over the years, the system earned an outstanding reputation, numerous awards for excellence, wide recognition for service and innovation, and the love and pride of Hancock County citizens who have long appreciated its many services and achievements and have viewed it as an essential asset. That essentialness was never more apparent than in the awful days following Katrina.
With Waveland and Pearlington branches totally wiped out, Bay and Kiln branches heavily damaged, a third of the system’s collection lost, a third of its staff still gone, and $6 million in damages to contend with, the system nevertheless got the Kiln branch open two weeks after the storm and the Bay branch about six weeks later. Mondays through Saturdays they offered satellite phones, laptops, free internet service, copying and fax machines, clean restrooms, air conditioning, disaster recovery info, and later tax forms, tax assistance, and electronic filing in addition to regular library services. They also helped house a long list of agencies like the Food Pantry, SBA, Corps of Engineers, mental health counselors, etc.. Services provided at the two libraries were a lifeline for thousands of exhausted, trauma-stricken Hancock Countians and the volunteers who came to help us.
Four years later in 2009, Hartzell-Mika, a library consulting firm from Michigan, did a study for the system. Their report concluded that with four locations to operate, it was stretched to the max and would need more staff and resources as the two destroyed facilities were rebuilt and remodeled. (Pearlington and Waveland branches did not reopen until 2011.) Noting that there was discussion of a fifth location at Diamondhead, the consultants warned:
. . .the current Hancock County Library System operational budget will be strained to support five branch libraries. The additional staffing needed and the extra costs of collections, supplies, utilities, maintenance, etc., will force reductions in other areas of the Library System’s operations. Additional funding should be sought for operational costs before an East Hancock County Library is built. There is a need for a carefully devised policy on any type of expansion to, or addition of, facilities.
However, the county had developed a wish list of buildings they hoped to construct with federal CDBG funding. A library building for Diamondhead was included and, though far down the list, over time it gradually worked up to the top. In 2013, with neither the recommended studies done nor firm plans for operational support, the facility was built at its present location on county-owned land. The East Hancock branch opened without the needed increase in funds to the system for running it, and by means of the system’s stretching its available resources very thinly.
The situation just grew worse after that as the county cut back the system’s funding by 2% for FY 2014 and 2% again for FY 2015. In 2015 it received even less than its already reduced budget because gaming revenues decreased and the county did not collect the expected millage value. Staff cuts and any other possible savings had already been made and there was no margin left — the amounts the library had budgeted were the bare bones of what it took to run it.
Finally, with the supervisors’ decision to cut the FY2016 system budget by $42,000 for a total of $78,000 in cuts over three years, it was clear to the library board, who had consulted intensively with a number of knowledgeable advisors in the state, that keeping five branches operating beyond the end of FY 2015 was impossible, a message they had conveyed to supervisors before their vote. To top it off, mildew problems were plaguing the inside of the East Hancock facility.
Administrators described the decision to close the branch as devastating for the board and the staff. No one wanted any of the five branches closed, but no one could run the system without sufficient funding. As they removed everything, cataloguing it properly, and closed the branch down, the cost amounted to $20,000; putting it all back together again would cost over $80,000.
Obviously we users of the branch want it reopened. Not just a convenience to us, a library is an asset of major importance to a community of Diamondhead’s size, education, and income, one that most communities of distinction regard as indispensable. If Diamondhead wants a branch here, we need to ensure that the appropriate level of support is provided to run it, not look for reallocations of insufficient funding and certainly not at the expense of a remote rural branch that is the sole asset of the several small communities it serves.
The system, like any other, allocates the funds it has according to the needs of the branches. Numbers of people using each branch determine size of building, necessary staffing, resources, programs, maintenance, etc., which drive the costs of running each branch. Other factors such as insurance costs vary widely depending on locations. Approximate usage figures for FY 2015 which ended Sept. 30 are:
Visitors Items checked out Computer users Reference questions answered
BSL 10,000 67,361 27,000 27,344
Wave. 4,000 20,949 4,646 7,357
Kiln 2,900 30,355 6,800 7,400
Pearl. 2,600 4,374 1,800 1,300
E. Hanc. 2,600 24,000 3,800 4,600
The system allocates revenues and costs equally to the degree it is sensible, but beyond that, as in any kind of budget, you can’t allocate funds to make things equal — you must allocate them to pay the bills you’ve got. You cut where it’s feasible without doing harm, but you also have to seek more income if your bills are greater than cuts can provide.
Available funding sources are the county, the city, and private donations. It may surprise you to know that Diamondhead is listed as the 6th richest city in the state. Median household income is greater here than in Ocean Springs, Long Beach, Covington, or anywhere else within 50 miles, except Mandeville. Bay St. Louis, with median income of $41,078, contributed $305,900 to its branch; and Waveland with a median income of $33,909 gave $176,400, both amounts based upon 3 mills. Diamondhead, with a median household income of $67,138 (and a carryover from FY 2015 of $3 million) contributed $10,000 — reluctantly. We can afford a branch here; the question is whether we will support it or just blame others and look for excuses to opt out.
Hancock County Public Library System: History and Hurricane, Andrea Moreau, 2012. http://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=slisconnecting
Here Are the 20 Richest Cities in Mississippi, Daniella DiRienzo, 2015. http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/mississippi/20-richest-ms-cities/
Quick Facts, U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045214/00,2819100,2803980,2878200