The Limestone County Commission on Monday heard pleas from members of the community to restore funding to the Athens-Limestone Public Library.
Prior to the current fiscal year, the library had received $80,000 each year from the commission. When the commission approved the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget, it reduced the library's funding to $50,000 without explanation.
Community members who spoke at Monday's meeting asked commissioners to have a change of heart.
Rhiannon Knight, a 15-year-old student at Athens Renaissance School, said the library had become a second home to her since moving with her family to Athens from Lakeland, Florida.
“The staff and other patrons are so supportive of me and everything I do,” she said. “If the library has to cut hours or programs, I know the staff and other patrons will suffer. … I feel like if the library suffers, we will all feel the effects and suffer with it.”
After the commission cut the library, Knight started both a gofundme page to raise money for the library and a petition on change.org to encourage the commission to restore the library's funding. The petition had 762 signatures as of Tuesday.
Lloyd Davies told commissioners libraries are “an important cornerstone of a healthy community,” and that the library “reflects the needs and expectations” of the community.
Former library worker Rebecca Croomes implored commissioners to visit the library to get a firsthand look at the activities taking place there. She said it's not unusual to see people lined up outside the door waiting to get in on certain days.
The library drew record-breaking numbers to its summer reading program, including some children who are on the autism spectrum, Croomes told commissioners. She said the library also hosted a skills camp for autistic children over the summer.
“As far as the financials, it's a very tightly run ship,” she said. “It's one of the best places I've ever worked at. I would ask you to reconsider your decision.”
Jim Hickman wanted to know who voted for slashing the library's funding and who voted to level-fund it. District 4 Commissioner Ben Harrison later said he was the sole commissioner who sought to level-fund the library.
Hickman said had one more person been split on the decision, it may have forced Chairman Collin Daly to make the decision. He said if the commission can amend its budget, it should revisit the issue.
“What pains me is, you should be expanding library services, not cutting them,” he said.
Jocelyn Broer, who lives in Madison-annexed Limestone County, said she uses the library and its services for her young children. She urged the commission to fund the library at a higher level so it may have longer hours and be open on Sundays.
“The hours are not good for stay-at-home moms with young children,” she said. “These kids are up at six or seven in the morning. When our library opens at 10, they are climbing the walls.”
During commissioners' reports, both District 3 Commissioner Jason Black and Daly said they were looking at options for funding the library.
“Sometimes it doesn't work out, and sometimes it does work out. We're not haphazardly discussing it,” Black said. “We're looking at other things and we will have some information we'll be giving to the public.”
Harrison said it's possible the commission could amend the budget, if it's something other commissioners are open to.
“We always do budget revisions,” he said, noting the commission agreed to add a part-time worker for the Council on Aging at Monday's meeting. “Anything can be done.”