Cobb to open $10 million library despite lack of funding

Cobb County has a shiny new $10 million library and cultural center, but as yet no way to sustainably fund it over the years to come.

The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday narrowly voted to approve the use of $284,000 in one-time monies to cover staffing and operations for the first year of the new Sewell Mill Library and Cultural Center, which is scheduled to open in early December.

The project was approved by voters and built with $8 million from a special purpose sales tax (SPLOST), and two million in state funds. But now, Cobb doesn’t have enough money to run the library at full capacity.

The county more than halved the original proposed operating budget for the library and will eliminate three positions from the East Cobb Government Center to off-set some of the cost.

Last month, the board approved a budget of more than $400 million, including $21 million in one-time monies to cover funding shortfalls, despite a record high tax digest.

Chairman Boyce voted in favor of the temporary library funding, but sought to cast blame on commissioners who voted against his proposed tax hike in July.

“The reality is that we have a $10 million investment that this board has known about for years and it’s dropped in my lap to fix,” Boyce said.

Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Lisa Cupid voted against the funding on grounds that the county should not spend any more one-time monies on recurring costs. Commissioners Bob Weatherford and Bob Ott voted in favor of the expenditure.

Speaking after the meeting, Ott said he had originally offered to close the Lewis A. Ray Library in his district to balance the cost of Sewell Mill, but was rebuffed by Chairman Boyce, who wants to discuss the consolidation of library services within a county-wide plan.

Ott said it was true that the board knew it would have to fund the library once it was constructed, but staffing needs changed as new amenities were introduced.

“Yes, it’s been in the pipeline — it’s replacing a library,” Ott said, referring to the East Marietta Library, which will close. “There are some technological features that were not in the old library because it was built in the sixties.”