Published 3:58 pm Thursday, September 24, 2009
As was reported last week the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors was greeted with a round of applause from approximately 50 county residents when it was announced that there would be no increase in county millage and therefore no increase in taxes. We applaud the supervisors for taking a long hard look at the financial situation of the county in light of the state and national situation and standing pat on their “No new taxes” stand.
But at what cost? And, was it worth it? When viewed in light of those questions and after reviewing the list of services that suffered under the budget ax we must take pause.
Foremost on the list in respect to the biggest monetary amount cut was the Sheriff Department’s budget which had $800,000 trimmed off of the $8.2 million requested, bringing it down to $7.4 million. Sheriff David Allison said part of the additional amount requested was to allow deputies a raise in pay, something he said had not happened in three years. Now we see reports that nine employees have been laid off as part of that department’s steps to bring the budget under control.
Next hardest hit, in dollar amount according to published reports, was the Pearl River County Library System which saw $130,000 sliced from its budget request of $304,600. The library’s 2008-09 budget was reported at $274,600 and they had asked for an increase of $30,000 which would have put the 2009-10 budget request at $304,600. They instead saw, once the ax fell, their 2009-10 budget pared to $174,600. In light of what they requested for the 2009-10 budget year the library system lost $130,000 over what they were hoping to have for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
What is more telling, and more damaging to the library’s mission (and therefore to the supervisor’s budget deliberations and possibly their image), is that the percentage of the library’s loss of $130,000 against the hoped for budget of $304,600 is over three times more than the percentage portion lost to the overall sheriff’s budget. When the portion eliminated is compared against the overall budget request, the sheriff department’s percentage of loss is slightly less than 10 percent; conversely, the library’s percentage of loss is over 42 percent.
What does this say to the priorities of the supervisors and our county government, and, in a roundabout way, all who were against taxes being raised. Granted, our law enforcement and jail system are vital to the well being and safety of our citizens and their property, but should not the education of its citizens be of equal concern?
Part of the problem we see is that our emphasis on education — and our libraries are an integral part of that — is often at odds with other issues that are many times equally as important. An argument could be made that had the education of many of those found in our jails today been tended to as it should have been, they might have been better equipped to avoid the vicious cycle that put them in the jails to begin with.
Be that as it may, this is what ultimately concerns us: The message this sends about the importance of the library and what it does for the residents of our county and why the library appeared to be singled out for the largest cut in proportion to its overall budget.
It is supposed we should be thankful that even greater cuts were not considered. We understand that the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Free Library with its six million items (books, art, music, film and more) had been facing permanent closure because of declines in revenue at that city. A later report said funds had been found, but the fact that such a drastic move was even considered shows the problem governments throughout the country are facing.
We can only hope that County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin’s words that “the budget is not set in stone” hold true and that funding will be found to restore, if not the library’s original budget request, at least the previous year’s funding level.