Struggling Opelousas library gets small boost to budget

The president of the Opelousas Public Library says the facility is functioning on “the edge of poverty,” despite an additional $12,000 added to its operating budget Tuesday night by the Board of Aldermen.

Estelle Perrault, who also serves as president for the Eunice Public Library, said the additional money approved for the Opelousas library will probably raise wages for most of the workers there to about $7.50 an hour.

Nearly all of the 13 employees at the Opelousas branch have earned the hourly $7.25 minimum wage for the past several years, she said.

The library needs to have 21 workers to efficiently provide services, Perrault said, but there isn’t enough money in the budget to increase the staff.

None of the workers at the Opelousas library, including some with college degrees, receives health or similar fringe benefits, Perrault said. She said all are making less than the lowest-paid laborers for the city.

Perrault said the library receives about $250,000 annually from a 1-cent sales tax collected within the corporate limits.

Perrault said the library has continued to provide services through private donations and with the help of civic clubs, which also have provided revenue.

The Opelousas Rotary Club, she said, also is planning to give proceeds from an annual auction to assist the operation of the library.

New books arrive at the library through patrons who buy them, while others are obtained through donors who provide used books, Perrault said.

The library recently launched a used book sale to help raise funding, Perrault said.

“We have a pretty dedicated staff and several interns of college and high school age which have helped out. The main thing is the paid staff is training the younger workers on library procedures that can be used in the future,” Perrault said.

St. Landry Parish is the only parish in the state that doesn’t have a parishwide library system, Perrault noted.

The parish has tried several times to pass a property tax to support a parishwide library effort, without success.

Perrault said the cities of Opelousas and Eunice in the mid-1960s approved the establishment of municipal libraries funded through sales taxes.

Other municipalities in the parish also have devised ways to fund their own libraries, Perrault said.

Additions to the library budget were contained in a pair of general fund budgets approved without opposition by the board.

The board approved a $16 million budget for 2014-15, which includes a projected surplus of $1.35 million.

Mayor Donald Cravins Sr. told the board that the 2014-15 budget reflects citywide sales taxes revenues, which are projected to remain stable through Aug. 31, 2015.