By Kay S. PedrottiIn a somewhat contentious Milner city council meeting last week, a proposal by council member Betty Wilson touched off a half-hour shouting match about city funding for the Milner library.She proposed that voting on future funding for the library be postponed pending submission to the council of ‘all contracts, agreements, promises and budgets that have funded the construction of the library, including all monies raised and spent by Friends of the Library, city revenue, Downtown Development Association money, and other funding sources.’ Deadline for the documents in the original Wilson proposal was Nov. 16, but was later modified to Nov. 28 at the request of councilman Roger Samples, who said, ‘that gives the council five days to review the materials before our next council meeting on Dec. 3.’ Councilman George Weldon, also the chairman of the Milner Library Board and a central proponent of the project for many years, said that the information wanted by Wilson ‘is all there, in the report from Chase Idol,’ library board member and a local accountant. He added that it is almost impossible to obtain state documents in a short amount of time, and that no DDA funds have been spent on the library.Weldon voted against the motion to suspend funding pending the examination of financial documents; Wilson, Samples, Fred Stephens and Tracey Alford voted for the motion.The documents supplied by Weldon show expenditures from January 2015 to October 2018, with only one deposit of Local Option Sales Tax funds from the city of $1,079.81. Weldon said that the council approved support for the library from 20 percent of LOST revenue plus utility franchise fees, in 2011. Wilson said ‘it didn’t say the support had to be financial.’ She said, I’m trying to look out for the city to find out how the money has been spent. Somebody has to be the Grinch ‘“ well, I’m the Grinch.’Several council members spoke out against using city funds for the library, citing cutbacks in city expenses which were described as ‘sacrifices made for the city,’ when LOST revenue went to the library.Weldon also read a proposal, including a request that $26,000 expected to be saved from the Milner police department budget this year ‘be spent on the library.’ His remarks were not well-received, with several council members saying they felt the police department was far more important than the library.Construction on the building is nearly complete; the city will not own the building until that is accomplished, Weldon said. County Commissioner Nancy Thrash, who serves the district including Milner, said that the city could wind up paying back the $780,000 state grant given to build the facility, if support already pledged is withdrawn and the library cannot open as scheduled. Wilson said she did not vote to approve the sales tax revenue funding and is making an effort ‘to look out for the city and make sure how all this money has been spent.’Milner Friends of the Library started raising funds in 2004 with fundraisers such as pancake breakfasts, spaghetti suppers and book sales, along with private donations. A prime mover for the library was Carole Wilson, whose family members contributed more than $10,000 to the fund for a library. Now living in Ohio with one of her sons, Carole Wilson has said many times that she envisioned the project as a small building not affiliated with the PINES/Flint River library system, to be staffed by volunteers as a place where children and seniors could walk to borrow books instead of going to Barnesville. The idea of a state library grant was followed up in 2010-11, resulting in the $780,000 grant with numerous conditions attached. One document generated from the Flint River Regional Library System by current director Natalie Marshall states in two places that ‘Milner Public Library is funded by the City of Milner and SPLOST.’ Marshall succeeded Carrie Zeiger, who first proposed going for a state grant to the Friends of the Library. Marshall later told the Herald Gazette that about $760,000 of the $780,000 library grant has been spent for architectural and construction costs. The grant is financed by 20-year state bonds, she said, which were sold in late 2012.Thrash was instrumental in obtaining the grant. She said, ‘I believed at the time that was what the city wanted. I don’t think you can go back on that position now, with what consequences there may be. I have been counseling you all for years to look at what’s put in front of you and be sure what you’re voting for but I don’t think you’ve done that. Why would you vote to support a ‘˜Milner library’ if you had no intention of supporting it once it was built?’Local funds raised before the state grant have been required to cover the yearly $12,000 PINES fee, even before the library construction started. According to state requirements, a certified librarian and at least one more paid staff member must be present during all hours the library is open.
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