Supervisors finalize their end of new HCLS library agreement
By Dwayne Bremer
Aug 8, 2017, 18:23
The Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved an inter-local agreement which would effectively create a new library system.
The plan, however, must be also approved by the Bay St. Louis City Council and Waveland Board of Aldermen before taking effect.
A few months ago, supervisors voted to opt out of the current agreement, saying -- among other things -- that the current agreement is out-dated and unfair to the county.
If a new deal is not reached by Sept. 30, the county would no longer provide funding for the library system.
The original inter-local agreement that created the library system is about 25 years old and does not include the city of Diamondhead and its library.
The library system is funded primarily through tax levies from Hancock County, Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
Diamondhead, Waveland and Bay St. Louis each have a library.
Hancock County is the largest contributor to the library system, but it only has two of the county's five libraries (Pearlington and Kiln).
The county collects 2.65 mils for the library system annually, which generates about $1.3 million. Bay St. Louis collects 2.65 mils, which generates about $300,000, and Waveland charges its residents three mils, which produces about $180,000.
Diamondhead, which was not an incorporated city when the current inter-local agreement was signed in 1991, contributes part of its general fund millage to the library. The city also contributed an additional $20,000 for books and supplies.
Another sticking point is representation on the library board, which was created to oversee its operations.
Supervisors have said that since the county contributes the most to the system, it should have more representatives on the board.
The new inter-local agreement would create a new five-member board to oversee the library system. The county would have three representatives. Bay St. Louis and Waveland would have one representative each.
If approved by the cities, the new inter-local agreement would create a new library system, officials said.
In June, supervisors met with elected officials from both cities and Diamondhead.
At that meeting, many elected officials from the two cities asked supervisors to opt back into the old agreement this year so they could have more time to discuss it.
In the past month, there have been ongoing discussions, but the the rumor mill has also been churning.
District One Supervisor David Yarborough said Monday that he was particularly perturbed by a rumor that claimed the Pearlington library would be closed.
"The day Pearlington library gets shut down will be over my dead body," Yarborough said. "We have to get some costs down and we need to work together, but we need a library in Pearlington."
Hancock County Library System Director Courtney Thomas asked why the supervisors wanted to create a new library system instead of making improvements to the current one.
She pointed to an online petition being circulated locally as evidence that the public does not want a totally new system.
"This is throwing out the baby with the bath water," Thomas said. "We have an award-winning library system."
Thomas said the current library board has tried to work with supervisors, but in some instances, it has been been excluded or not informed about what discussions have taken place.
Additionally, she said, a different system could create legal problems.
"I do not understand why the current board is being excluded," she said. "The law states that a library board is an administrative board. It cannot be changed by an inter-local agreement. You are attempting to modify it by this inter-local agreement."
LaFontaine said the administration, employees, and library services have made it an award-winning system, not the name of the system.
"All of that is going to roll-over," LaFontaine said. "I do not think it jeopardizes the system."
After Thomas and LaFontaine's conversation ended, the board voted 5-0 to adopt the new inter-local agreement.
The plan will now be forwarded to the two cities for consideration.
The Bay St. Louis City Council was expected to discuss it at Tuesday's meeting.
The Waveland Board of Aldermen is expected to discuss the new agreement at its next meeting on Aug. 16.