St. Landry council mulls tax for parishwide library system

The St. Landry Parish Council voted Wednesday to call a special meeting Feb. 5 to consider calling a tax election to fund a parishwide library system.

Bruce Gaudin, a member of a coalition group that formed to discuss the possibility of a parishwide library system, said St. Landry is the only Louisiana parish lacking one.

Gaudin, an Opelousas lawyer, told the council that the coalition group is proposing a 5.5 mill property tax to help fund the parish wide system and asked the council to approve an ordinance that would place the issue on the May 3 ballot.

Gaudin said the annual cost to the owner of a house worth $100,000 would be about $17.

Gaudin said the council’s approval is required by a February deadline in order to place the millage proposition on the May 3 ballot.

The parish has many independent municipal libraries in towns such as Sunset, Washington and Krotz Springs, although there is no parishwide library system.

Opelousas and Eunice have a dual system which has been in existence during the 1960s, Gaudin said .

Gaudin said a parishwide system would create a five-to-seven member control board that would be appointed by the council and would oversee the operation of the libraries.

Several parish residents spoke to the council in support of parishwide library system.

Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins Sr., said there’s a major need for increased library services.

“The computers (at the Opelousas library) are busy every minute of the day. This shows me that at some point, we need to find a way to fund a parishwide system.

Gaudin noted that the Opelousas and Eunice libraries had no money in their budgets in the previous fiscal year to purchase new books.

Many of the workers at the Opelousas library have been working there for as long as 12 years and are paid $8.40 an hour with no benefits, said Gaudin.

St. Landry Parish School Board member Josie Frank said having no parishwide library has placed parish residents three generations behind.

School Superintendent Edward Brown said motivating voters to pass the proposed millage “will be tough. However we need to do something.”

Several of the council members were skeptical that voters would approve a millage proposition.

“Is it just the property owners that are going to be using the libraries?” council member Alvin Stelly SAID.

Council member Wayne Ardoin noted that property taxes have “not been popular in St. Landry Parish.”

Gaudin said most parishwide library systems in parishes surrounding St. Landry are funded by a property tax.

In another matter, the council unanimously accepted an internal report of the parish Community Action Agency for the fiscal year ending July 31.

Steve Moosa, who presented the findings in the audit conducted by the firms of Darnall, Sikes, Gardes and Frederick, said the audit indicates the CAA has reduced its deficit for several programs from about $593,000 in an audit conducted May 15, 2013 to $328,238 at the end of the July 31 fiscal year.

None of the council members questioned Moosa about the findings in the audit.

In an interview after his presentation, said that the CAA’s financial problems have been “stabilized” since its daily operation was placed under control of the council and Parish President Bill Fontenot.

“Basically (parish government) has stopped the bleeding. There is still a way to go, but there is an improvement,” Moosa said.

According to the audit report presented at Wednesday’s meeting the CAA receives federal revenues for weatherization programs, United Way Medical Assistance, emergency food and shelter, community block grant funding, Medicaid food for seniors and family independence.

In an interview following Moosa’s report, Fontenot said the deficit reflected in the audit report for the end of the July 31 fiscal year is “continuing to carry over from the administration” of previous CAA director Donald Robinson, Sr.

Fontenot removed Robinson as director in August 2012.