Construction and operation of a new library in northeast Lafayette is still possible, but only if a 1.84-mil property tax is renewed and changes are made at other libraries, like cutting days and hours they're open.

The former Lafayette City-Parish Council in 2019 set aside money in its capital budget to build a Northeast Regional Library in Lafayette. But there isn't any money to operate the library if it's built, Lafayette Parish Library Director Danny Gillane said.

Gillane told the Library Board of Control on Monday that he is working on scenarios that would free some of the money needed to operate the Northeast Regional Library if it were built.

The ideas he outlined are not a proposal, Gillane said. He wants those who support a new northeast library to know it is still on the table, he wants the board to know where his thought process is headed, he said, and he wants everyone in the parish who uses the libraries to know it may take cuts to services at their favorite library to make it happen.

"This is just to put it out there, to let people know we're not ignoring it, hoping it goes away," Doug Palombo, board president, said.

But there are a lot of factors to be considered before anything happens, he said.

If library tax renewal fails, only one or two libraries in Lafayette Parish may remain open

To staff the new library, Gillane said he could pull employees from other libraries in the parish by reducing the days and hours of operation at existing libraries.

For instance, Gillane said he believes he could free up five staff positions for a new library if the North, West and East Regional libraries were to open only six days a week with fewer hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with each staying open late one night a week, from noon until 8 p.m.

If the main library downtown and the South Regional Library, the most used libraries in the parish, closed on Sundays, he said, that could free up another six positions for the new library.

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The scenario, he believes, would free enough positions to staff the Northeast Regional Library to operate the same hours as the North, West and East branches.

It also would take buy-in from a majority of people in the parish, Gillane said.

"The population of the parish will have to look at am I willing to give something up so those people who are underserved can have something," board member Robert Judge said.

Lafayette Parish Library Board asks council not to raise or lower property tax rates

The library system had an operating shortfall of $1.8 million last year, according to Lafayette Consolidated Government, Gillane said. For the current fiscal year that ends Oct. 31, LCG estimates the library will have a $1.3 million deficit, he said, but Library Operations Manager Larry Angelle puts the deficit closer to $800,000 in part due to cost-cutting measures.

The library system has a fund balance or savings of about $7 million, down from $24 million a few years ago before it was diverted to pay for drainage improvements, but cannot continue to use that to offset operating costs indefinitely.

If the Northeast Regional Library were built, Gillane said, the deficit would again increase to $1.8 million, money that would have to come from the fund balance.

A 1.84-mil parish wide property tax that generates about $4 million a year for library maintenance and construction is up for renewal by voters Oct. 9. If it fails, the library system is expected to try again in April before the tax expires.

The library system lost more than $3 million a year when voters in 2018 did not renew a 1.61-mill tax for operation and maintenance, leaving only the 1.84-mil tax and a 2.91-mil tax which is not up for renewal this year. The 2.91-mil tax for library maintenance generates about $6.3 million a year.

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