Library funding in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, may be diverted to a new jail thanks to a legislator who doesn’t approve of the library’s programs. Jail proponent and chair of the Lafourche Parish Council Lindel Toups supports a ballot measure that would take funding away from libraries.
“They’re teaching Mexicans how to speak English,” Toups told the local Tri-Parish Times, referencing Biblioteca Hispana, a Spanish-language section of one of the nine branch libraries. “Let that son of a bitch go back to Mexico. There’s just so many things they’re doing that I don’t agree with. ... Them junkies and hippies and food stamps [recipients] and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps [on the Internet]. I see them do it.”
“We are here to serve all of the residents of Lafourche Parish,” Library System Director Laura Sanders told the Los Angeles Times. “It doesn’t matter what ethnicity they are -- we serve them all.”
The parish -- Louisiana’s equivalent of a county -- holds a ballot election Saturday over the issue; residents will vote on whether a portion of property tax dollars allocated to the libraries should instead be used for a new jail. EveryLibrary, a nonprofit organization supporting libraries nationwide, calls it “the worst library election in the country.”
The library system recently saved funds during the construction of seven new branches. It has planned to use those resources for other capital improvements, to bring its branches and staffing up to state standards, and to keep pace with advances in technology and e-books.
Toups doesn’t see it that way. “They’ve got too much money,” he told the Tri-Parish Times. “We’re giving the public the chance to raise the jail money without raising taxes. Any blind man can see that.”
“The library is not saying we don’t need a jail,” Sanders says. Originally constructed in 1968 and expanded in 1977, the jail is in poor condition and suffers overcrowding.
She noted that for Toups, the issue of the jail’s condition is a personal one. “He does have family members that are incarcerated,” she says.
According to Houma Today, Toups’ son and grandson were arrested in 2009 and charged with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
If passed, the libraries would lose $800,000 every year for 30 years; next year, that would be about 11% of its $6.4-million budget. Three years from now, the library would begin operating at a deficit; the following year, its deficit would jump to $2.7 million.
Lafourche Parish is in the southern part of Louisiana, to the west of New Orleans. About 43% of its households do not have Internet access at home, while the library provides free Internet access with 186 computers. More than half of the Parish’s residents, 53%, hold library cards, and in 2013, the library system has served more than 280,000 visitors.
“There’s been a lot of misrepresentation of the facts on the other side, and that’s disappointing,” Sanders says. The library has put out a fact sheet to share the details of its finances, and is using its blog to encourage people to vote.
“This election has two sides and is controversial because the jail is in a deplorable state, Sanders wrote in a blog post, “but should the library have to foot the bill for its construction and operation for 30 years?”