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Jackson to Consider Taking Over Library

The public library that serves the 96,000 residents of Jackson and Madison County has asked to be taken over by the city of Jackson, the Jackson Sun reports. If the city were to agree — and Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist says the city can’t afford it — one of the first orders of business would likely be to figure out why four years of employee retirement payments were not made and how to catch up.

Apparently, some confusion stems from whether the private management company that was hired to manage the Jackson-Madison County Library in 2006 should have continued payments to a state retirement fund or treated the staff as workers of the management company, which library board chairman Brandon McWherter says has its own retirement system.

Such questions of oversight often come up as communities weigh whether to hand over the books to private companies. Residents also worry about whether they will be more interested in serving the public or in the bottom line — although governmental difficulties conceiving and achieving bottom-line goals are often what drive privatization efforts in the first place.

In Jackson, the problems don’t end with the retirement funds. The library’s “facilities are largely outdated, we’ve had the same computers for years, and we may soon be understaffed. We don’t want to lay people off, shorten hours and decrease our material purchases,” McWherter said. “Those things will do nothing but cut the legs out from under our efforts over the past several years.”

McWherter noted in a letter to the city, though, that on the whole he believes the 2005 decision to privatize the library “has been a good move and has led to much growth and success.”