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Block grants bring budgetary brouhaha

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Despite pleas for increases, Bandera County Commissioners held firm regarding block grants for local nonprofits during a budget workshop on Thursday, July 12.

According to Judge Richard Evans, funding for block grant allocations amounted to $248,000, with proposals tapping out at $348,000. He said if the court acquiesced to all funding requests, the amount would equate to an ad valorem tax increase of one penny per $100 valuation.

Included in block grants are all county libraries, Bandera County Public Library, Medina Community Library and Lakehills Area Library, as well as the Utopia Public Library.

Other nonprofits funded by block grants include CASA, K-Star, Hill Country Cares, AACOG's Alamo Regional Transit (ART) project, Boys & Girls Club of Bandera County, Kids Advocacy Place, Bandera Honors Veterans, Silver Sage Corral Senior Activity Center, Medina River Protection Fund and Bandera County Sister Partnership Association.

Several block grant recipients are funded through special accounts that do not involve taxpayer money.

"We received large requests from the county libraries," Evans said. He also pointed out that the Bandera County Federated Library System is charged with approving block grant requests before they are brought efore commissioners court.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Bruce Eliker, who serves as court liaison for the federated library system, said that because he had not been invited to the last meeting, he had no input into the amount of the requests.

Instead, he noted, "We'll be lucky to maintain the status quo. That's a big chunk of money."

For the first time, all county libraries were required to turn in a standardized budget form.

David Lackey, the Medina Community Library's representative on the federated library system, told the court that the standardized forms offered a more accurate comparison of the county libraries. Pleading for more funding, he said that libraries increase real estate values and contribute significantly to a community's economic development. "Studies have shown that 72 percent of working women use libraries. I don't think you want to take on working women," he said.

Evans pointed out that to survive - and thrive - in a tough economy, a government must cut expenditures or increase revenues. "Spending more than we're taking in is not sustainable," he said, adding that he didn't think it feasible to raise taxes to fund block grants. "And if we expend the fund balance (for block grants), it would be catastrophic down the road." Evans later explained that a healthy fund balance is necessary to pay county expenditures during "a three-month lag before taxes come in."

"(The fund balance) just doesn't sit there," Eliker added.

Lackey replied, "If you have to raise taxes, blame the librarians."

"No, if we have to raise taxes, the citizens will blame the people here," retorted Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King, indicating his colleagues on the bench.

During ensuing discussions, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris took exception to the numbers on the Bandera library's budget form. "County employees did not receive a cost of living increase this year, so I have a problem approving a raise for a library director," he said. He also looked askance at the library's $280,000 endowment fund.

Lee Kneupper, treasurer of the Bandera library board of directors, explained that all libraries have endowment funds and that the board didn't intend to "touch the fund until it grew to $500,000."

When Harris mentioned that the Bandera library was the only one that appeared to be "making money," Kneupper attempted to disabuse him of that notion. On paper at least, the Medina and Lakehills libraries ran at $10,000 and $14,000 deficits, respectively, during fiscal year 2011-2012.

"Our grant income is misleading," Kneupper explained. "It is dedicated for specific items, such as books, furniture and computers. If you take the grant money out, we run a deficit like the other libraries." Bandera's grant money amounted to $23,000.

"Well, if you use grant money to buy books, what's this $12,000 line item marked 'Books'?" Harris asked.

Kneupper reply, "Not all libraries are equal. You have to look at the services provided," engendered an outcry from the other county bibiliophiles.

"If you're going to dispute your own numbers, you need to bring supporting documentation. All I have to go by is the numbers you give me," Harris said. "Two libraries are asking for less than they spent and the one that's making money is asking for more than they spent."

Before the vote, Evans commented, "I am satisfied that everyone will be equally unhappy with the decision.

That's only fair and equitable."

Lackey agreed.

In a 4-1 decision, with Harris casting the lone "nay" vote, it was decided to keep most nonprofits at their 2011-2012 block grant funding levels. The two exceptions were CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and ART, which both received slight increases and in-kind donations.

The Bandera County Public Library, which requested $116,990, an increase of $25,143, received $91,847; the Lakehills Area Library, which requested $101,500, an increase of $29,569, received $71,931; and the Medina Community Library, which requested $88,710, an increase of $37,888, received $50,822. The Utopia Public Library received its usual $1,900 stipend.

Look for other budgetary revelations in the Thursday, August 2, edition of the Courier.