Trying Times: The Parish Library’s Financial Situation

By Jim Wilkerson

It is no secret that the Lincoln Parish Library is losing money and that the millage renewal on the October ballot will likely determine the fate of the library.

Ever since the failure to renew the library tax during the December 2020 election, the library has been operating on reserves. The original 2021 budget in December was $2.7 million, but that budget has been cut down to a little over $2 million. It is estimated that if the millage renewal fails again, the library will only have about six months of operating capital before it goes under.

“We are under times that will try our souls,” the Library Board of Control Chair, Augusta Clark, said during the board meeting held on July 21st. “We will have to do a lot more with a lot less.”

The library certainly has been doing more with less. In March, the board had to cut nine staff members, and six vacant positions have been indefinitely frozen. Only twenty-two employees are working at the library, and all travel and continuing education expenses have been cut off. Further, the library’s programs have been “culled back to the bare-bones minimum”, and future projects are being abandoned.

All this was happening shortly before the sharp uptick of library patrons during the summer months. According to Interim Director Marcie Nelson’s statistics for June 2021, the number of library customers exceeded that of May’s by 150 percent. Outreach has also jumped, and circulations were up by 4,000 in June.

Although the library is understaffed and the budget is hemorrhaging, Wednesday brought some good news to the board. Ms. Nelson noted that the library recently obtained funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), totaling $47,064.84, and that the library also received ten “Spark Boxes” from the PRIME TIME Family Reading Program provided by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH).

The ARPA funds will go to updating public computers and technology, and each of the Spark Boxes consists of $250 worth of books which will go to families in the community who are in need.

The library has also applied for two additional grants. One is for the E-Rate Connectivity Fund provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the other for a Museum on Main Street grant provided by the LEH and Smithsonian.

Of course, the board is desperately hoping the millage renewal succeeds in October, and there appears to be a sizable portion of the Lincoln Parish population who support the tax. However, there is also a growing distaste for higher taxes among many, if not most, of the citizens of Lincoln Parish, who voted against the renewal last December.

Only 17 percent of the population turned out for the last election, with a vote of 57 percent against and just 43 percent in favor of the millage renewal.

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