By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
Thursday afternoon at the Dade County Library was a scene of controlled chaos as a task force from the beleaguered institution’s nonprofit Friends group stuffed envelopes, discussed survival strategies and, incidentally, granted an interview to the Dade County Sentinel.
“Generally our focus – just lay them on the table out there – is really to support the library,” said Linda Wilson, Friends president. “As far as the politics, though some of us may become involved in that, we don’t really have a position.” She added, “I have pages 6, 7 and 8.”
What the group crammed into a study room at the library’s newly renovated permanent building on the Trenton town square was working on was a fundraising mailout to Dade businesses. The Friends group says the library needs fresh contributions to furnish any children’s programming at all during the coming months.
After the Dade County Board of Education’s abrupt announcement this summer that not only would it not chip in the full $38,000 or so it usually contributes toward the library’s annual upkeep, it would longer help fund the library at all, a frenzy of emergency fundraising netted the beleaguered institution $22,392 within a few weeks, surpassing the $19,000 that Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library of which Dade’s is a branch, estimated would allow the library to stay open 30 hours a week for this fiscal year.
But Ms. Wilson pointed out that even before the B of E dropped its bomb, the library was already gravely underfunded. “We were expecting or hoping for $38,000 from the Board of Education. We can’t make all that up,” she said. “But we already had no funding for children’s programs and things like that. What money we make from this will go for that.”
So she and the other Friends want the word out about this latest fundraiser. The Friends group is awarding area businesses with commemorative display stickers to acknowledge their level of giving: Bronze for donations up to $499, silver for $500 up to $999, and gold for $1,000 and more. Businesses may place the stickers near cash registers or in shop windows to show they support their public library.
The Friends group is also awarding white-level commemorative stickers to non-business individual contributors.
The Friends apologize in advance if anybody is hit up twice. Ms. Wilson stressed that some businesses and individuals have already been overwhelming in their generosity: During the initial survival fund drive, for example, Madex and the Discount Flooring Store contributed $1,000, and the Industrial Park’s KML Properties offered to match all new donations up to $3,500.
But Ms. Wilson also said more prospective donors are out there and the library needs them. “The donations that we’ve got, the $22,000-whatever, came from 150 people,” she said. “The rest of the world is sitting back and waiting for somebody else to fix it.” She added in an aside: “I hate to be bossy but take those to the table outside. There’s no more room in here.”
Before this year, the library’s upkeep was shared among the Dade County Commission, the Board of Education and the Trenton City Commission, the three local taxing authorities, with the state of Georgia kicking in additional funding and services. Now that the B of E has ducked out from under, the Friends Group, which previously focused on paying for extras, is feeling added pressure.
“We’re trying to do more because more is needed,” said Emily Franklin, a former Friends president. “I think the library will ask more of us than it has in the past.”
“We would pay for summer reading programs, or we’d pay for some of the people who come in and do presentations, or we’d pay for a vacuum cleaner or pay for carpeting,” said another member, Holly Richeson. “But we’ve never had to step up and raise this kind of money.”
Long-range, though, the Friends group admits simple fundraising may not be the answer. “I don’t think we can rely on the kindness of strangers for any length of time,” said Melanie Parrish, and another volunteer, William Back, said that sums raised this way may not in any case qualify for the state’s “maintenance of effort” formula. Georgia requires a certain level of funding from local governments for their public libraries to continue ponying up itself.
In that regard, library supporter Donna Street, interviewed by phone on Monday, said that a Friday meeting with Robin Rogers, Dade’s county attorney, about getting that vital support had proved inconclusive, but then, she hadn’t been expecting miracles. “What I want is the truth, what’s possible and what’s not possible,” she said. “I think it may take a little while to do.”
She said Rogers was researching the law concerning libraries and what other counties are doing as far as supporting their branches.
Dade County Commission Chairman Ted Rumley has said repeatedly that Dade County, which contributes the lion’s share of the library’s upkeep at some $68,000 annually, is already doing all it can. But a straw poll question on the July 31 primary ballot asking whether Dade should devote some portion of its millage rate toward funding the library received an overwhelming 71 percent yes answer.
The question was nonbinding, but after its success in the primary Rumley announced it would be placed on the November general election ballot as a referendum issue. Almost immediately, however, he learned there was not in fact time to make this happen and had to rescind his announcement.
Ms. Street said that looks grim for the library. “If we can’t have a referendum in the next year, then we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board,” she said. That, she said, meant meetings between library administration, the city and county commissions, and the board of education.
The Sentinel asked: board of education? Hadn’t the B of E made it clear it was no longer in the library-funding business?
Ms. Street wasn’t so sure. Surely there was somewhere an intergovernmental agreement formalizing the shared obligation of the three taxing authorities to fund the library, she said. Until that agreement was formally ended, she said, the board still had an obligation. “I think the school board thinks they’re done, but they’re not,” said Ms. Street.
Be that as it may, what the library must do for now is raise funds however it can to stay alive while these matters are settled; thus the letter writing campaign. Readers who do not receive a letter may donate anyway by dropping a check by the library, sending it to P.O. Box 340, Trenton, Ga. 30752, or contributing online at savedadelibrary.org.
Meanwhile, Linda Wilson ended the interview by passing the Sentinel a stack of envelopes. “Here is a sponge,” she said, “and some water.”