OPELOUSAS — Two years after his proposal for a parishwide library system fell flat, St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot is renewing the effort.
Fontenot told the Parish Council on Wednesday that he will make it an administrative priority to draft funding proposals he thinks would help establish a parishwide library system.
Fontenot’s remarks followed a presentation by parish resident and library supporter Ginger Lecompte, who told the council a system linking existing municipal libraries sprinkled throughout St. Landry is essential to attracting industry, attacking adult illiteracy and improving the public school graduation rate, which is below the state average.
The council took no action on the matter, but Fontenot said he will do further research and then bring the matter back to the council.
Lecompte said St. Landry is the only parish in the state that does not have a unified library system. She said a proposed parishwide property tax in the 1960s to support a parishwide library failed, and no attempts since then have been made to reintroduce the issue to the electorate.
In March 2014, the council voted to indefinitely delay a proposed ordinance that would create an East St. Landry Library District to be funded by a parishwide 5.5-mill property tax.
At that 2014 meeting, Bruce Gaudin, chairman of a coalition supporting a parishwide library system, said he felt coalition members needed more time to discuss the matter further with municipal officials.
Until Wednesday, the matter had not come back to the Parish Council.
Opelousas and Eunice have a shared library system funded by sales taxes and other revenue. Sunset has a town library supported by a property tax. Krotz Springs has a municipal library funded by grants.
There also are town libraries in Washington and Port Barre.
Lecompte said the municipal libraries would not be eliminated by instituting a parishwide library. Instead, the parishwide system would incorporate the city libraries and connect them to the state library and Library of Congress systems.
Both Fontenot and Lecompte declined to specify how much revenue is needed to fund a parishwide system.
Instead Fontenot said he will develop his own proposals and then make them public.
Fontenot said creating a parishwide library system has been a goal of his administration since his 2010 election.
“Sixty-three of 64 parishes have done it already and I don’t see why we can’t do it,” Fontenot said. “In order to do that, I won’t hold anyone hostage. I will let the people vote on it.”
The issue prompted a series of questions by council members.
Councilwoman Mildred Thierry asked whether it would require a tax proposition.
Lecompte said if a tax is proposed, it would cost about $13 annually per person, or what she said is the average price of a book.
Councilman Kenneth Marks said he feels the school district should also become involved in the process.
“I think the school system should be the main driver in this,” Marks said. “We already have the (school library) facilities and maybe we should look at upgrading them and modernize them.
“We need to use what we already have and let the tax dollars go there,” Marks said.
Councilman Wayne Ardoin said he doesn’t oppose the idea of spending money for a parishwide library, but improving parish roads is a higher priority.
“We still have people that are using gravel roads when they travel from point A to point B,” Ardoin said. “I think that should come first.”