I heard about how the county council is discussing closing the Liberty library. This new county council inherited nearly $25 million in cash from the old council. Plus the county’s annual tax revenue is at a record. Reading the article, I wondered how can they be short of funds?
Looking deeper I pulled out the most recent financial audit of the county government. The libraries are funded by the 6.3 mills in property taxes we all pay. (See your tax bill, the line labeled Library.) Tax collections for the library budget are $3.1 million. The state pitches in $235,000 and library fees bring in $100,000. Total revenue for the library budget was $3.4 million (shattering the record).
Personnel costs are about $2.4 million, running the library buildings cost about $350,000 and other costs like supplies and contractual services add up to $350,000. Total expenses were $3.1 million.
The bottom line is the libraries were about $300,000 in the black last year, and the library account ended the year with a very healthy cash balance of $2 million. By the way, actual expenses came in about $400,000 less than budgeted expenditures. Another positive sign.
Again, I ask, what is the problem?
When I questioned the council leadership (both Roy Costner and Chris Bowers) on Facebook about this, posting the financial statements, and neither demonstrated a knowledge or understanding of these financial figures.
If there is indeed a financial problem with the library budget, it supports the point I made a few weeks ago. Why did the council vote to give the city of Easley $760,000 to help fund new parking lots and things like new landscaping for their Market Square?
In the past year or so we saw the shuttering of the Liberty Fire Department, the defunding of the Liberty Animal Shelter and now this discussion of closing the Liberty library. Our county leaders simply do not see what is coming down the pike — growth the next 10 to 15 years for our county and Liberty in particular.
Greenville first sprawled east toward Greer, then south to Simpsonville and north to Travelers Rest. Greenville is now sprawling west into Easley, and that wave of growth is moving down Highway 93 toward Liberty as people are fleeing the crowds and higher priced real estate of Greenville, Powdersville and Easley.
Looking in the other direction, same thing. Clemson University continues to expand, now at 25,000 students on the way to 30,000 plus. Clemson sprawl is also barreling down Highway 93 toward Liberty.
The residents in Liberty are wise to push back against this, and hopefully the council will reconsider.
The bottom line is, we tend to elect people who promise us the most, so the financial “skill” of most elected leaders is limited to creating lists of new things to spend money on. When they are faced with even the simplest financial challenges, they really don’t know what to do, and often the result is not good.