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Hancock County looks to public libraries to save money

The Bay St. Louis Public Library could come under private management as the Hancock County Board of Supervisors is considering outsourcing with a private company to manage its public library system.
The Bay St. Louis Public Library could come under private management as the Hancock County Board of Supervisors is considering outsourcing with a private company to manage its public library system. wmuller@sunherald.com

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors is considering hiring a private company to manage its public library system.

Officials from Library Systems & Services attended last week’s board meeting and gave a brief presentation on how their company could save taxpayers $1 million to $1.5 million over five years.

Supervisors reached out to LS&S last summer. The company provides services nationwide and is the third-largest library system in the United States, managing 83 branches and more than 1,000 employees, according to its website.

It boasts a track record of turning around struggling public library systems.

County Administrator Eddie Favre said supervisors are looking at privatization options as part of an effort to make sure all county services are cost-effective.

“We’re looking at ways to provide better services at lower costs,” he said.

The biggest problem Hancock’s libraries are facing is funding, he said.

The Hancock County Library System operates branches in Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Kiln, Pearlington and Diamondhead. It is owned and funded by the county and the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland through an interlocal agreement. Each entity provides millage, with the county contributing the largest portion.

The system is managed by an independent board of trustees. Hancock County and Bay St. Louis each appoint two members and Waveland appoints the other.

The practice of outsourcing public services has gained traction in recent years in Hancock County. Waveland privatized its building department; Bay St. Louis privatized grass-cutting operations and is now looking at outsourcing its building department; and the county recently took bids to outsource maintenance services for the parks and recreation department.

The common benefits of privatization are cost savings and reduced liability risks. One drawback is it can lead to layoffs of public employees or cuts to their pay and benefits. But Favre believes this would not happen if the privatization ever comes to fruition.

Rather than a complete takeover of management, LS&S would work alongside the library administrators, he said.

“From an employee standpoint, the talk of privatization should not worry any of our employees.”

Wesley Muller: 228-896-2322, @WesleySMuller

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