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Residents oppose Llano County Library System budget cuts

Richard Maddern

Richard Maddern addresses the Llano County Commissioners Court during its regular meeting. Maddern was just one of many who expressed concerns over the court’s decision to cut the Llano County Library System budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Concerned residents spoke out against a $152,466 reduction in the Llano County Library System’s proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget at a budget hearing of the Llano County Commissioners Court on Monday, Aug. 22. The hearing was held after the county commissioners’ regular meeting. 

The county library system has been embroiled in legal troubles since April, when a lawsuit was filed against the county over concerns of censorship. Those against the cuts suggested the decrease was to pay for outside counsel in the lawsuit. The cut is almost equal to the amount the county set aside for outside counsel to fight a civil suit brought against the commissioners, certain members of the Library Advisory Board, and the library system director.

Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham addressed the subject of legal fees associated with the library lawsuit.

“If anyone thinks that we wrote an attorney a $100,000 or $150,000 check for the library, that’s not the case,” he said. 

At the time this story was published, Llano County had five different lawsuits listed for discussion during an executive session on the court’s agenda, including the library suit.

“All we’re doing is trying to position ourselves so that we can have funds available for an attorney if needed,” Cunningham continued. 

In June, the county hired as outside council Jonathan F. Mitchell of Mitchell Law LLC in Austin to assist the county attorney in the library suit.

The proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget allocates $448,501 for the Llano County Library System, while the fiscal year 2021-22 budget allocated $600,967. According to Cunningham, the 2021-22 budget was abnormally high compared to previous years and well beyond the library system’s operating expenditures.

He laid out the budget for the past several years: 

As of May 31 of this year, the library system had spent $305,555 of its 2021-22 budget, which represents eight months’ worth of expenditures that used only half of the amount budgeted, he said.

“If anyone is painting the picture that we are totally neglecting the libraries, that’s not true,” Cunningham said. “We wouldn’t be putting the amount of money that we are into it if that was the case.”

A prepared statement from a representative of the Llano County Library System Foundation, Jeanne Puryear, cited numerous issues with the current state of Llano County libraries and the shrinking budget.

“The dwindling budget of our library system makes it plain to see what our county values and does not value,” Puryear said.

According to Puryear, county library staff was reduced to eight from 13 in 2022, no new books have been purchased since October 2021, libraries have been closed on weekends, they are in disrepair, and six out of 10 computers don’t work.

Puryear is among a group of plaintiffs suing Llano County for the banning of certain books from the library system, which they claim violates First Amendment constitutional rights to free speech, religion, assembly, and the press. The complaint also cites a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives citizens the right to due process. The books were removed without citizen consent, which the plaintiffs have said is censorship.

“Right now, with the amount of people coming in the doors, our current staff is sufficient,” said library system Director Amber Milum. 

According to Milum, overall attendance at Llano County libraries is quite low. Milum also expressed hope that attendance would rise, at which point, the system will hire more staff.

Both Milum and Cunningham are among the defendants in the Llano County lawsuit.

Commissioners voted to close libraries on Saturdays at a meeting on July 25. Milum suggested the closure was due to low Saturday attendance. Only 2.54 percent of total library attendance occurred on Saturdays, according to data she presented to the Commissioners Court.

Llano County libraries had a total of 21,196 people walk through their doors and 14,389 books checked out from January through May of this year, according to the same data.

The Llano County Library System’s fiscal year 2022-23 proposed budget was the only subject addressed during the public comment portion of the county budget hearing.