Hancock County

Who’s going to fund libraries in Hancock County after Sept. 30?

The Bay St. Louis Public Library, along with every other public library in Hancock County, 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, along with every other public library in Hancock County, 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 File

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors opted out of its inter-local agreement with Bay St. Louis and Waveland in connection with the Hancock County Library System in hopes of reaching a new agreement by October.

If no deal can be reached, libraries across the county could be forced to close their doors Oct. 1. The move was designed to bring all of the interested parties in the library system to the table, officials said.

“We want to continue the conversation we have been having with all parties over the past few months,” Board President Blaine LaFontaine said Tuesday. “According to the agreement, we had to give 60 days’ notice that we were opting out. That deadline was this April.”

The library system has libraries in Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Pearlington, Kiln and Diamondhead.

In 1991, the county reached an agreement with Bay St. Louis and Waveland that outlined how the libraries would be funded and operated.

Each entity would levy taxes to help fund the library system. A library board was formed that comprised appointed representatives from each municipality.

That agreement is nearly 25 years old. Two libraries, including one in the previously private community of Diamondhead, have been added in the interim.

LaFontaine said since new supervisors took office in January 2015, they have been examining the libraries’ funding and decision-making processes.

Over the past year, questions have been raised about funding percentages from the municipalities, and about representation on the library board.

Earlier this year, supervisors listened to a presentation from a nationwide library company that is interested in privatizing the Hancock library system. LaFontaine said Monday’s action had nothing to do with that company.

“We have made no authorization with that company and there has not been any further discussions with them,” he said. “We have been asking the library board for some ideas and we are waiting to hear back from them. We also want to sit down with the cities and talk to them. This will bring everyone to the table.”

Although the county opted out of the inter-local agreement, it must still honor the funding budgeted through the end of the fiscal year, which expires Sept. 31. One potential hiccup could be the loss of $54,000 in funding because of a budgeting error last year.

Supervisors learned Monday about $800,000 in estimated revenue would not be collected this year because of a tax abatement given to a company at Port Bienville.

Library system Director Courtney Thomas said Tuesday she is aware of the shortfall and she and her board were scheduled to discuss it at Tuesday evening’s meeting.

The library board is also expected to contact the supervisors soon about a new inter-local agreement, officials said.

“There would be no funding except for Bay St. Louis and Waveland,” LaFontaine said. “I don’t think that will happen. We have plenty of time to work out a new agreement.”

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