Concerned with the proposed cut in the county budget for the Llano County Library System, the courtroom was packed with Llano County citizens Monday morning. Rumors of the County shutting down the libraries were rampant, and a number of concerned citizens attended the August 13 meeting.
Supporters of the libraries in Llano County urged commissioners to find a way to keep the libraries in Llano, Kingsland, and Buchanan Dam open full time, following the news that the Court had cut the budget, resulting in the proposal to close the libraries on Friday and Saturday.
Citing cuts at the state level, Judge Wayne Brascom told those present that the cuts were necessary to avoid steep tax hikes and were due to mandates from State legislators as well as decreased revenue from fines, fees and taxes at the county level.
Several proponents of the library spoke during public comments, asking Commissioners to find a way to fund the library instead of cutting hours. Suggestions included cutting salaries across the board for the county, to looking at line items and reducing expenses in other departments.
Those who spoke in favor praised the benefits of libraries, saying that Llano County libraries provide access to services that the economically disadvantaged might not otherwise have access to, such as the internet and audio books, as well as programs and books for patrons. One speaker stated that the cuts would lead to ‘an intellectual gap’, that the ‘impact of deteriorated libraries will have a negative impact on our children.’ Another speaker emphasized the importance of the libraries to the county’s self-governance, and said that regular folks who ‘read voraciously’ would be impacted and that closures would ‘impede development in this community at its foundation’.
Carol Williams suggested that the county reduce the proposed 3% raise for county employees to 1% in order to raise the necessary funds. (The current proposed budget does not include raises.)
Former Llano Mayor Roger Pinkney asked if HOT Funds could be used to provide the approximately $70,000 needed to maintain the libraries at their current status. Unfortunately, the HOT Funds, or hotel-motel tax funds, cannot be used for that type of expenditure.
Judge Brascom said that for the second year in a row, Commissioners were faced with the decision to either raise taxes or cut the budget. Last year, the Court cut approximately $800,000, and this year were faced with the same task, cutting approximately $700,000, for a total of $1.5 million due in large part to mandates that have come down from the legislature, and also because tax revenue has not increased significantly due to minimal construction in the county.
Brascom said that the library system has the third largest budget in the county, and said that while it is a benefit to the citizens, unlike the jail and court system, is not a required expense under the State’s constitution. He also said that the Texas Administrative Code gives guidelines for operating libraries and said that counties are required to spend $4.25 per constituent in the county for counties this size. The proposed reduced budget of $404,000 equals an expense of $20.88 per resident for the approximately 19,000 population of Llano County.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Johnnie Heck said that the Court could raise the budget to keep the library open, but that in doing so would force the county to raise taxes to the highest point allowed, known as the rollback rate, which would then require a vote by the citizens of the county to adopt the rate. If the voters deny the rollback tax rate, then the Court would be forced to assess taxes at the effective tax rate. The effective tax rate is tthe rate that is necessary to bring in the same revenue as the previous tax year. The downside to the effective rate, Heck said, is that the Court would then have to go back to the budget and cut it severely.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, Judge Brascom had requested that the CIty of Llano look into providing the additional $21,350 of the $70,000 deficit that is required to keep its doors open on Friday and Saturday. At the August 6 meeting of the City Council, Llano agreed that they should consider providing the funds.
The other two libraries, Kingsland and Lakeshore, are located in unincorporated areas of the county.
All three libraries receive donations from the Friends of the Library, but those donations cannot be used to meet the budget, except for specific items, such as large print books.
Judge Brascom pointed out that the budget does not include utilities; those are paid out of a separate fund.
Commissioners voted to approve the proposed budget, but it will not be final until after a public hearing on September 10, which will be held at 2pm at the Llano County Law Enforcement building, and a final vote at a regular Commissioners Court meeting.
There is a meeting scheduled at the Kingsland Library this Thursday, August 16, at 5:30 pm to discuss the proposed cuts to the Llano Library System and possible solutions. The address of the Kingsland Library is 125 W. Polk St., Kingsland, Texas 78639 - Phone no. 325-388-3170