Madison mayor wants county to revisit funding for library system
It might be time to rewrite the funding agreement governing the Madison County Library System, at least according to Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler.
That’s because residents in her city are having to pay twice for library services, while residents in unincorporated parts of the county do not.
“I’m a proponent of libraries but the formula being used is antiquated,” she said.
Homeowners in Madison, Ridgeland, Canton and Flora pay property taxes twice – once to their respective city and once to the county.
A portion of both taxes goes to fund the library system.
Meanwhile, homeowners in the unincorporated parts of the county pay only county property taxes, meaning they only pay for library services once.
Butler says her residents are being double-dipped. She further believes the county is financially strong enough to support MCLS without support from the cities.
“My position is that the cities are paying twice for the services. That’s the way it’s always been,” she said. “Now that the county is strong enough financially to support (the system), the agreement needs to be revisited.”
MCLS Executive Director Tonja Johnson wouldn’t say whether the funding agreement should be revisited, saying that would be a question for the board of supervisors.
District Two Supervisor Trey Baxter, who represents parts of Madison and Canton, said he would be willing to discuss revisiting the agreement.
Not all the mayors agree with Butler. Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee said the agreement is fine as it is.
“We need to bear some of the responsibility here for our citizens,” he said, acknowledging that his city puts a “good bit” of funding into the Ridgeland branch.
Butler also questions why so much of the system’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits, rather than books and services.
Last year, MCLS budgeted around $389,000 for the Madison (city) library, of which nearly $264,000 went to salaries and benefits, while just $64,386 went to materials, adult programs and children’s programs.
The Ridgeland Library’s budget least year was for $385,000, of which $260,000 went to salaries and benefits, with the same $64,386 for materials, adult and children’s programs.
Johnson said Madison and Ridgeland are not taxed twice. Rather, the cities pay a flat amount that goes specifically to the libraries in those municipalities.
She also touted system services, saying MCLS logged more than 304,000 visitors systemwide last year, with more than 456,000 items circulated and more than 12,000 children reached through library programming.
“Part of providing a good library service is having a well trained, professionally trained staff, which is what we strive to do,” Johnson said. “Each of our children’s specialists are highly trained. We have a high number (of employees) with a master’s in library science.”
As for being taxed twice, Johnson said residents are paying for the “convenience” of having branches in their cities.
“The county pays 80 percent of the operational costs of the library system,” she said.
Butler, though, argued a large portion of the taxes collected by the county actually come from residents in her city.
Last year, the board of supervisors dedicated 1.07 mills, or $1.57 million in property taxes to MCLS.
Of that, property owners in the city of Madison contributed around $432,500, Butler said. The same 1.07 mills generated around $485,000 from Ridgeland property owners.
The interlocal agreement governing MCLS was put in place in the 1960s and last modified in September 2009.
It was signed off on by the county board of supervisors, as well as the governments of the cities of Madison, Ridgeland, Flora and Canton.
Under terms of the agreement, the county collects an annual millage for library service, which is paid by all property owners in the county.
The cities of Ridgeland, Madison and Flora also provide an annual allocation, while the city of Canton collects an annual millage.
The agreement states that all groups must provide an annual allocation, but does not set a specific amount. Last year, the county dedicated 1.07 mills to the system. Madison and Canton provided around $100,000, while the city of Ridgeland contributed $110,000, Johnson said. Flora, a town of approximately 2,058, contributed $1,200.
Those allocations are in addition to the utility and maintenance costs the cities incur to take care of their libraries.
Ridgeland spends as much as $30,000 a year on utilities and maintenance, and is now looking for funds to build a new library as part of the town square. Madison contributes about $25,000 for utilities and maintenance.
Both Madison and Ridgeland own their own buildings.
In Canton, where MCLS is headquartered, the building is jointly owned by the county and the city, and the utilities are paid for entirely by the county, per the 2009 agreement.
The branches in Camden and Flora are also owned by the county. However, the town of Flora pays it utility costs.
Madison has a population of around 26,000, Ridgeland has around 24,500, and Canton has around 13,600, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Under state law, the library system itself cannot own the buildings themselves. Rather, they must be owned by the local governmental entities.