County panel recommends $1M for library

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bedford County Board of Commissioners' budget and finance committee recommended Tuesday night that the county commit to $1 million in funding for a new Shelbyville library -- provided that library begins construction and is ready for the money within three years.

The finance committee's recommendation will be considered next month by the full commission.

Library board members Susan Derryberry and Lynn Hulan told the committee that $700,000 in pledges and gifts has been raised towards a new library, but officials fear donors will lose interest unless government funding is secured to move the project forward.

"We've gone as far as we can go," said Derryberry.

Hulan said a county commitment would help generate donor interest in the project.

The library board has already scaled back its original $4 million plan to a more modest $2 million library, in the face of the current fiscal realities for both Shelbyville and Bedford County governments.

According to state and national guidelines, a library serving a population the size of Bedford County's should be 20,126 square feet and have 118,472 books. Argie Cooper Public Library is 8,558 square feet and has 59,236 books.

Tennessee ranks last in the nation in per-capita operating support of public libraries, according to literature passed out Tuesday night, and local funding is slight even by Tennessee standards. The national average is for a library to receive $24.49 in funding for each user. The state average is $14.60; local funding is $5.79.

Hulan at one point suggested that the county might want to kick in even more than $1 million towards the project. Finance committee chair Roger Brothers said proponents should worry about the $1 million first. If construction bids turn out higher than expected, the library could conceivably come back and ask for more later.

Fire trucks: In other discussion Tuesday night, the committee took under advisement Volunteer Fire Services Inc.'s request for seven new trucks, saying it should be discussed at the same commission study session now being planned to discuss surplus real estate issues.

Last month, VFSI presented a request for seven new pumper-tanker trucks plus a ladder truck, for a total cost of just under $3 million. The new trucks would replace decades-old tankers at the county's volunteer stations. The ladder truck is badly needed because the department has difficulty fighting fires on multi-story homes, many of which are being built in rural areas.

At that time, the finance committee asked for more specific information on how the purchase might be financed. The county has one year left to pay for pumper trucks purchased in 1998; committee members would like to find a way for the county to make the same payment on the new trucks that it has been making on the old ones. One way to accomplish that would be to make a down payment on the purchase using some of the county's proceeds from the sale of Bedford County Medical Center. But some commissioners may not want to use the hospital money for this purpose.

Brothers even wondered out loud whether the county's special purpose fund -- derived from rural sales tax revenues and other rural-only funds -- will be able to fully support rural fire protection and rural animal control over time. Brothers said it's not guaranteed that the special purpose fund will always be able to support the services.

Commissioner J.D. "Bo" Wilson strongly disagreed, saying the county's sales and property tax revenues have been rising.

E-911 grant: The committee also placed on the full commission's agenda a question from the county Communications Center about how to handle $30,000 in state E-911 grant funds. The funds are to be used to pay dispatcher salaries -- but the county has already budgeted the salary for its current dispatchers, and isn't ready to hire new ones right now. In fact, one of the existing positions is unfilled at the moment.

Some legal questions related to the grant will be researched between now and the April 11 commission meeting. It's not clear whether the grant is intended for the 2005-2006 fiscal year or for calendar 2006, for example, or whether unspent funds can be rolled over into a future fiscal year.

Law enforcement: The finance committee asked the rules and legislative committee to consider a resolution in support of local law enforcement. Wilson said the recent shooting of a Latino businessman by a Shelbyville police officer was a tragedy from both sides, but that the commission needs to show its support for the work done by local law enforcement officers.

The rules committee has already held its meeting for this month, so it could not consider such a resolution until next month, meaning the soonest the full commission could vote on a resolution would be May.