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Clermont creates library of its own after spending cuts
Library run by volunteers is open Monday and Wednesday afternoons
Home schooled student Josie Collinson, 12, reads at the Clermont Gym Wednesday afternoon. In the wake of county budget cuts that closed the Clermont library branch, Clermont residents have banded together to make their own, using donated books.

Somebody had to do it.

Abandoned in a staggering round of spending reductions earlier this year, Clermont residents have taken it upon themselves to create what the Hall County government has deemed fiscally impractical - a lending library inside the town limits.

A room inside the Clermont Gym — now called The Historic Clermont Dip — is already lined with books for the townspeople to browse and borrow. Some are already taking advantage of the almost completely volunteer effort.

The finishing touches aren't quite there, however.

The books are all donated. Some still sit in boxes.

But in the future, the room full of books promises to have a computerized lending system that allows volunteers to check books in and out of the library.

"It's not perfect," said Sandra Cantrell, president of the Clermont Historical Society, the group behind the library effort.

The town's county-funded library branch closed in July after the members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners learned county revenues would likely come in some $11.5 million below the cost of operations.

Instead of raising taxes to preserve the status quo, the commission chose a number of cuts that included closing two county library branches.

Facilities in East Hall and Clermont were chosen simply because the others — located in the county's population centers — were used by more people.

Cantrell, who steered Clermont's volunteer library effort, is also a member of the Hall County Library Board.

When the time came to make a budget recommendation to the commission in June, she was one of two people who voted against the decision to close Clermont's library. The other votes — the ones in favor of closing Clermont's library branch — came from outside Clermont and were supported by the commission.

July's closure of the tiny Clermont library branch wasn't the first time town residents felt let down by the commission's fiscal decisions.

"We're kind of positioned geographically where we're not part of White County, but we're usually the red-headed stepchild of Hall County," Cantrell said. "It seems that way, because it's such a distance geographically ... "

"There's nothing wrong with that. It's just that it's hard for the government entities to serve all the people, which is what they're charged to do, but it's just hard to do that when you've got such a diverse group."

The town sued the county over its right to have a library branch in April 2010 after the commission voted to use special purpose local option sales tax funds to build a park and library branch on Nopone Road.

Clermont residents were outraged, claiming they had voted in favor of the sales tax because they were promised a new library branch would come from the revenues.

A judge ruled in the commission's favor. The ballot for the tax vote only promised a North Hall library branch and never specified a location.

Two new commissioners who came to the board in January joined sophomore Commissioner Ashley Bell in a vote to rekindle Clermont residents' hopes for a new county library branch in their town.

As soon as they were elected, the new commissioners promised Clermont would get its library in addition to the park and technology center under construction on Nopone Road.

Four acres within walking distance of The Historic Clermont Dip have been set aside as the future county library site. But no one knows when the property will develop into a promise kept.

Already, lagging county revenues have officials unsure if there will be enough money to open the Nopone Road facilities when construction is complete in January.

Hall County Library Director Adrian Mixson said the hope is that the operating funds will be there by next fiscal year, which begins July 2012.

Until then, Mixson said, "it will sit there."

And a county-funded library in the town limits of Clermont is even further off.

For Mixson, it's not even in the foreseeable future.

"I have no idea when they will build a library in Clermont," Mixson said. "I do not know if anybody can even begin to speculate ... I'm going to be gone by then."

Until then, Clermont will take care of Clermont.

In July, the town council arranged to lease 40 acres of property the county had purchased for a park but had no money to develop.

And minutes from Clermont's Town Council meetings and Clermont Historical Society newsletters show the town was looking to create its own library as far back as April.

Mayor James Nix, who is Cantrell's father, suggested to the rest of the council in an April meeting that the town use a classroom in the gym for a future Clermont library and allow the historical society to use another classroom in the gym for an office.

Cantrell, too, in her historical society newsletter, announced plans for the Dip, which she said would offer "quality programs" in the community, including a library, an art gallery and a museum.

But Cantrell and Nix say it wasn't until the county library branch closed near city hall, that the effort for a library at the Dip really picked up steam.

Cantrell asked for book donations and Nix got to work on building shelves.

Perfectly whitewashed, "the pretty shelves" (Cantrell's words) Nix built are surrounded by standard second-hand metal shelves from the old county library branch.

"That's what the county was throwing away," Nix said, when asked about the shelves he didn't build.

The volunteer library is already open on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, though Cantrell said the effort to catalogue the books — spearheaded by a local school librarian — hasn't been completed.

They don't know how many books have been donated. If they do, they're not willing to say, anyway.

"There's no telling," Cantrell said.

"The bookshelves are getting full is all I can tell you," Nix said.

Who brought them? The community members who felt it was important to have a Clermont library, Nix said.

And though Cantrell concedes that the library isn't perfect — the bookshelves don't all match and the volunteers will come and go — it's something that belongs to Clermont.

No county commission or fiscal crisis can take it away.

"It's what you make it ... " Cantrell said. "We're hoping what we're laying foundationally will be here for a long time — no matter what happens with the library."

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