HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The Harrison County Library System's Director, Robert Lipscomb, said he's facing a crisis. He must convince local governments to chip in more money or run the risk of losing half a million dollars in state aid.
As Harrison County, Biloxi, D'Iberville, Gulfport and Pass Christian start to craft next year's budgets, the library system is lobbying hard for funding closer to what it was in 2004 before Hurricane Katrina. That's because after 10 years, the state has put the library system on notice that it's time to look to life beyond Katrina.
Will Weathersby is a frequent patron of the Gulfport Library in Orange Grove.
"I've always found what I needed at the local library," said Weathersby.
What the Harrison County Library System needs is more funding on the local level, because of a recent letter from the Mississippi Library Commission.
"They're concerned that our funding levels have dropped since Hurricane Katrina and over the last few years," said Lipscomb. "They have a rule that you have to maintain your funding. If you drop below what you had two years previously or what you had in the past, they can question that and decide whether or not they want to continue to give us state aid. We get almost $500,000 in state aid."
Harrison County library officials said they expect to get a waiver this year, but that won't last forever.
"It's the next year that I'm worried about and the year after that," said Lipscomb. "If the local funding continues to stagnate, or God forbid drop even more, then we would have a real crisis, I believe."
A financial crisis could cause staffing cuts and perhaps the closure of smaller branches. Library officials said many of the funding sources that have been around for the past 10 years are gone, and it's time to start a new chapter.
"Right after the storm, we had a lot of help. We had the Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and of course FEMA rebuilt these four library buildings," said Lipscomb. "But that era is over. We are now facing the era where we have to primarily run the system with local funds. I understand what Harrison County went through in the last 10 years. Believe me. I lost four buildings and was in a trailer for seven years. I'm not saying that efforts haven't been made to come back. With this notice I got from the state, I think it's my duty to let them know this is their concern, and hopefully, we can do something about it."
The Harrison County Library System is asking Harrison County Supervisors for $995,941 in the coming year, which is $200,000 more than the $795,102 that was allotted last year. Back in 2004, Harrison County contributed $975,941. The Harrison County administrator said supervisors would likely review the library's systems budget request on Wednesday. However, she did note Harrison County received an increase in total requests of about $3 million this year.
The library system is asking Biloxi to increase funding from $695,000 to $785,000, D'Iberville from $115,000 to $145,000, Gulfport from $325,000 to $513,000 and Pass Christian from $130,000 to $145,000.