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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Councilman Saitta Says Library Head’s Claims Are Untrue

𝐋𝐢𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐑𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞:
I want to respond to the comments by the Pickens County library board chairman, Dennis Latham, in the his press release/ this article entitled, “Library official urges county council to reconsider budget cut”. He said the county council is cutting library spending and hoisting the museum upon the library. Both claims are untrue. 

𝐒𝐩𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐍𝐨𝐭 𝐁𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐂𝐮𝐭: 
Library spending is not being cut. State law forbids the county council to cut the funding used to pay for library expenses and Latham knows that. In fact he signs a state document every year attesting to that. 

For 2021-22 the local taxes given from the county council to the library must be at least $3.1 million by law. My proposal gives the library $3.2 million or more than is required. Add in the $300,000 the library will receive from the state and their fees equals $3.5 million. If the library spends every dime of that, it will be the largest amount the library has ever spent. 

Latham is using the word “cut” in a disingenuous way. Do you remember when Medicare spending was growing about 6% a year and the Republicans reduced the growth rate to 3%? The Democrats screamed they are “cutting” Medicare! It was not a cut in spending nor a cut to the program. Latham is playing the same game. 

Looking at it in a simple way, instead of a figure rising from 10 to 15, it will rise from 10 to 12. Still an increase, but Latham would call that a cut, trying to create the impression the funding is falling from 10 to 8. Very misleading.  

𝐋𝐢𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐒𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐏𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐔𝐩:
Library spending will continue to grow, but at a lower rate so their cash and savings will stop piling up. Here is the cash balances of the library the last few years:
2013: $1.4 million
2014: $1.5 million
2015: $1.7 million
2016: $1.8 million
2017: $2.1 million
2018: $2.1 million
2019: $2.4 million
2020: $2.9 million. 

Yes, the past year they added nearly $500,000 in savings. This year, they’ve likely added a few more hundred thousand. At $3 million plus, the county council has added enough to library savings.  

𝐋𝐢𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐓𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐁𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐌𝐨𝐬𝐭:
When you look at the situation overall, the library is treated far better than other departments. While it is not required, the council has given the library its own tax rate and savings account. 

EMS, the police, personnel, solid waste, etc. have neither their own tax rate nor savings. If their budget is $400,000, and they spend $350,000, the $50,000 and it goes back into the general fund. The library gets to keep all their surpluses.  

My proposal does not close any libraries, cut hours, eliminate the library’s very own tax rate nor touch one dime of their $3 million in cash and savings. All it does is limit future revenue growth and hence the accumulation of more and more savings. That’s it. The annual revenue will now grow at a more reasonable rate and the excessive revenue growth will be diverted to roads. 

The library director and the county administrator agreed for the library to take over the museum and they negotiated the financial arrangement that saved $90,000. It was not the county council’s idea nor mine. We did not force the museum on the library as Latham claims. I was told about the agreement after the fact, at a council meeting. 

Finally, I examined the last 10 years of library usage data. Not one year as Latham claims. In 2010 the library system had 575,410 visitors. In 2019, pre covid, they were down to 360,542. So the long-term trend is down. Last year visitors fell to 278,177. 

They said there are other measures of usage that would offset that ten year decline in visitors. We asked to see that data, and they gave us numbers for 2020 only – about 35,000 who attended programs and 15,000 who reserved meeting rooms. That does not offset the 200,000 to 300,000 annual drop in usage over the decade. 

In sum, usage has been trending down for 10 years, and I am asking why are we continuing to grow at leaps and bounds library annual revenue, cash and savings? An adjustment needs to be made so the library spending grows like the other departments, and their savings stop piling up.

Alex Saitta

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