New Twiggs library closed

alopez@macon.comNovember 19, 2013 

The Twiggs County public library closed Tuesday without employees knowing when it would reopen.

Closing for lack of funding, doors were locked at the library at 7 p.m. At the same time about a block over at the Twiggs County courthouse, the county commission meeting that could have given it a reprieve was called to order.

A contentious meeting followed, which included a moment when County Commission Chairman Kenneth Fowler attempted to have the sheriff and deputies remove Commissioner Tommie Lee Bryant.

In the end, the county commission did not pass funding $14,000 for the library to continue operations for the rest of the year. Fowler and Donald Floyd voted to fund it, while Bryant voted not to. Commissioners Donald Watson and William Bond abstained from voting.

Watson requested more information from the library before voting to fund it, noting that the board was not made aware before Tuesday’s meeting that it was in danger of closing.

Fowler attempted to remove Bryant from the commission chambers because Bryant got up from his seat during discussion of the library. An argument ensued and Fowler, banging his gavel, called sheriff’s deputies to remove Bryant. After a chaotic scene, Fowler was informed that he didn’t have the authority to remove anyone.

The commission then voted to overrule their chairman.

The fighting did not change the library’s circumstances. It will not open Wednesday.

Reached by phone early Tuesday, Billy Humphries, acting chairman of the library’s board of trustees, said the Twiggs County government stopped paying the library’s bills in September.

Before closing Tuesday, library manager Skip Disbennett hosted a Cub Scout group at the library.

Brand new, the library facility features a computer lab where Disbennett plans to hold classes, and a reading area with a stage for puppet shows for children.

“They keep saying we overspent,” said Disbennett, “I say we were underfunded.”

The library board of trustees submitted a budget of $50,000 for library operations in 2013 but only $28,000 was approved by the county government, said Humphries.

The money approved this year was “not enough to run our temporary location let alone this library,” Disbennett said.

The Twiggs County school board contributes about $10,000 to the library per year to help the county, said Humphries, but that was not enough this year to bridge the gap between the $28,000 contributed by the county and the library’s $48,000 operating costs.

The library has managed up until now, said Disbennett, by having one person instead of two working per day. In addition to him, the library employs Linda Walker, a former teacher with 27 years of experience, and a third employee as a library assistant. He said there is no cash left in the library account to keep it open past Tuesday.

It is unclear when the library will open back up, Humphries said. And if the county commission funds it for 2014 at the same amount as 2013, the library may have to reduce its hours of operations once it does, he said.

“It’s a shame to have a million-dollar building there with only $48,000 a year required to operate the whole thing, and we can’t even keep it open five days,” Humphries said.

The situation is especially troubling, Humphries said, given how the county commission increased the budget this year for the local convenience centers (where people drop off their garbage) to over $108,000 by expanding its hours of operation and hiring new employees.

“It’s politics and a matter of allocating money,” Humphries said, “and where priorities lie.”

The city of Jeffersonville will try to lessen the burden on the county next year by contributing funds to the library for the first time in several years.

Jeffersonville Mayor Shannon Hart said that a $6,000 line item for the library will be up for a vote on the 2014 city budget. Voting on that budget will take place in December.

“The county really needs to read,” Hart said.

She placed a quote from “Fahrenheit 451” author Ray Bradbury on the marquee outside the Jeffersonville City Hall.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them,” it said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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