Renewal of tax said critical for county library

Valley Times-News, The (Lanett, AL) - Wednesday, September 29, 2010 Author: Special to Times-News

The fate of the Chambers County library system for the next two decades will be in the hands of county voters on Nov. 2 when the library's two-mill tax comes up for renewal , according to Library Director Mary Hamilton.

"Right now, the library system in this county has never been stronger," Hamilton said. "More patrons than ever are using the library; more items than ever are being checked out; more programs than ever are being offered; more services are being provided and more people are taking advantage of those services than ever before.

"But as good as things are right now, and as much as we plan on building on our momentum, we could go from feast to famine in the blink of an eye if the two-mill tax is not renewed on Nov. 2. To be frank, I don't know how we'd survive without it." Hamilton explained that while the library has received financial support from Valley, LaFayette, Lanett, West Point and the county, and from proceeds raised by events held by the Friends of the Library and the Library Ambassadors, the biggest slice of the library's fiscal pie comes from the twomill tax .

"We're extremely grateful for all our sources of revenue," she said. "But the vast preponderance of our yearly budget, 74 percent, comes from the two-mill tax . You take that away and you have basically eviscerated our budget, just gutted it. Without those funds, the library would eventually become a dim shadow of what it is today, that is if we could even remain open." Hamilton emphasized that the two-mill tax , to be known as Local Amendment Number One on the Nov. 2 ballot, is a renewal of the current tax , not a new tax .

"This two-mill tax has passed twice before for 10-year increments," she said.

"If renewed, it would not raise anyone's taxes above their current level. This time, the board decided to ask for a 20-year increment so that we would have the ability to make long-term decisions on the strength of having a stable fiscal base." Hamilton pointed to several areas of growth the library has experienced in recent years as evidence of the expanding benefits the library provides for the area.

"Since 2003, we've worked hard to increase circulation, programming and library usage in the county's two branches," she said. "In that time, circulation of materials is up 76 percent, the number of programs has grown 394 percent and patron visits are up 124 percent.

"We've had to enlarge the parking lot. We've hosted events here that have attracted up to 700 people.

We've offered an eclectic mix of prestigious speakers ranging from a former governor, to a Holocaust survivor, to a laundry list of noted authors and experts discussing every topic imaginable." Of the more than 370 programs the library hosts each year, Hamilton said she is most pleased with the Summer Reading Program.

"That's a program that we've carefully grown and cultivated over the years," she said. "It's the program that requires the most planning, promotion and partnering. It's the most time-intensive and exhausting program we do, but it's all well worth the effort because every summer hundreds of area children develop a love of reading because of that program.

"If you can get a kid to love reading in his formative years, chances are he'll maintain that love when he's an adult, too. Children with a penchant for reading have whole new worlds open to them and have a better chance of becoming well-rounded, educated adults." Hamilton also singled out the Gold Star Award the library was presented earlier this year as an item that demonstrates the library's commitment to providing the best possible experience to its patrons.

"That's not some kind of vanity award based on popularity or who you know," she said. "Libraries up for that award are carefully vetted in approximately 50 categories and subcategories.

Since that award was established in the '90s, fewer than 10 libraries in the state have won it, and we were the only library to receive it this year.

"We don't have a haughty attitude about winning it. We know we can always improve, but I think it says, 'Hey, we've got a pretty good library here.'I know personally that we have people who hail from larger cities surrounding us who choose to come here and pay for the privilege to use our library." Hamilton said that while she is hopeful and optimistic that the two-mill tax will pass on Nov. 2, she still has butterflies about it.

"It's like a big test that you've studied and studied for," she said. "You know you've prepared as best you can, but you haven't passed it until you pass it, and it's vital that we pass this test.

"Just like everybody else in the working world, every member of my staff goes through a job evaluation each year. The Board of Trustees evaluates me each year. But this is the ultimate evaluation, the ultimate referendum, conducted by the people we work for. The people have the ability to make or break us at this moment.

We think we've prepared as best we can, and now it's time to take the test.". Section: News
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Record Number: 1462265494
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