Budget cuts force Petal Library to close Wednesdays, not renew magazines or newspapers

By HASKEL BURNS,

As a result of budget cuts in Petal’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget – which went into effect Oct. 1 – several changes will be made at the Petal branch of the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal & Forrest County, including closing on Wednesdays and not renewing newspaper or magazine subscriptions.

Library director Sean Farrell said Tuesday the new budget reduced appropriation to the library by 43 percent, necessitating library administration and trustees to adopt a budget dealing with the cut. The new measures will take affect Nov. 1.

“We hate closing the library on Wednesdays,” Farrell said. “Whether it’s kids not able to do their homework, job seekers unable to access the Internet to look for employment, or people missing out on checking out books and DVDs, it’s just a sad thing. And of course, not having magazines for people to read is a real loss.”

Although the city’s budget cuts will not force layoffs or reduction in hours for staff, it will eliminate a position that had become vacant over the summer.

“We consider ourselves one library with two service locations, funded by three entities, but there never has been a dollar-for-dollar coordination, if you will,” Farrell said. “So that (eliminated) position probably would have worked some in Hattiesburg and some in Petal, and it was a part-time position.

“So basically, this will not affect Hattiesburg as much – this is a cut that’s going to effect the Petal branch.”

Despite the new measures, PineBelt News publisher David Gustafson has committed to continuing to provide copies of the newspaper to the library, even if library officials are unable to budget for the renewal.

Farrell said prior to the recent cuts to Petal’s Park and Recreation Department, which are reflected in the new budget, that department received a large increase in funding. The library, however, did not receive any major increases before the cuts.

“So it’s not like we’re being cut back to where we were a couple of years ago because we got a big increase we could no longer sustain,” Farrell said. “We’ve had some minor increases, but we’ve been at pretty level funding over several years.

“So it wasn’t an increase and then they said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t do that increase anymore.’ This is a cut from a pretty stable budget – we never had the big increase.”

Mayor Hal Marx and the Petal Board of Aldermen recently had a tug-of-war of sorts over the budget, with Marx vetoing the budget after it was originally passed in early September. Aldermen voted 5-2 the next week to overturn that veto, with Ward 4 Alderman Brad Amacker and Ward 5 Alderman Tony Ducker siding with Marx.

Marx said he and the aldermen tried to find places to cut that would affect the least amount of city services.

“(The library) was one area that the aldermen identified, and that was put into the budget,” he said.

Ward 3 Alderman Clint Moore said although the board didn’t know that the library would take the new measures when the budget was proposed, he understands the action, as the city recently reduced one of their own services – the Petal Senior Center – by one day a week.

“We approached the library about the potential that we wouldn’t be able to give them as much money this year, to see what would work for them,” he said. “They told us that as long as they received a certain figure, that they could still get their matching grants that our money goes to support, and they would be okay with a lower amount from us.

“We told them the amount we were going to give them this year, and that was totally fine with the matching funds they needed. So that was a number they said they were comfortable with.”

Farrell said the only way to describe the cut is as a reduction in service to the people who use the Petal Library.

“Boy, do we feel badly about it, but I can’t wish it away,” he said. “I really hope that this is temporary. We would love to go back to serving Petal at full strength.”

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