How much West Point City Council wants to allocate to local libraries may not be the only issue that faces debate when the 2013 spending plan is adopted Monday.
Council may also vote on whether to discontinue offering retirement and health insurance benefits to the mayor and six council members.
“Most of us promised when we ran for office that we would abolish these benefits,” said Councilman Ben Wilcox. “We need to stand behind that.”
His proposal, however, caused a skirmish with fellow council member Sandra Thornton.
“There may be some who want to run for city council and don’t have those benefits,” she said. “There should be some kind of incentive for running for office.”
A proposal was made about two years ago to increase benefits for council members, which sharply divided the council and became a campaign issue when Wilcox, Thornton and Councilman Jerry Ledbetter were elected last year. The proposal for the increase eventually was dropped. City Manager Ed Moon said dropping the health insurance benefits would save West Point about $20,000. He couldn’t put an exact number on the savings if retirement was dropped, the benefits depend on how long the council member had served.
The benefits issue and library funding will be decided in separate budget amendment votes Monday after council adopts the plan, Mayor Drew Ferguson IV said. Council members heard another plan for library funding at its Thursday work session.
Council currently has $30,000 in the budget for Hawkes Library in West Point and nearby Bradshaw Library in Valley, Ala. Councilwoman Judy Wilkinson had proposed $23,000 be given to Hawkes to allow it to buy computers and hire a part-time library worker. In Wilkinson’s plan, the extra $7,000 be held in a reserve depending on what long term plan the city comes up with to expand Hawkes or join the regional library system.
On Thursday morning, Ledbetter proposed giving $18,000 to Hawkes and $12,000 to Bradshaw, keeping the Alabama facility at the same funding level it has had this year.
“We need to put (both libraries) on notices that changes are coming,” Ledbetter said. “We need to tell Hawkes we expect more services and let Bradshaw know we may be getting a full-service library.”
The library issue has stymied the council for the last several years. Hawkes is a small, independent library in a historic building that many in the community would like to keep, however, it can’t offer some of the services that a larger public library can. Some in the community also question why the city would send money over the state line to support a library when other libraries in Troup and Harris counties are part of a regional system. But residents in West Point say it’s nearly impossible for some to make the trip to LaGrange or Hamilton when Bradshaw is a short distance away.
Wilkinson again called Thursday for support of Hawkes.
“Hawkes can’t grow unless we invest in it,” she said.
She said Chambers County, Ala., voters allocated a 2-mill tax to fund its library.
“We need to put that sort of confidence in our library,” she said.
Council can agree on the fact it needs to come up with a plan for library services.
“This issue has been continually raised,” Ferguson said. “We need to have a plan by the end of next year.”