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Statham library patrons to approach county about funding

POSTED: June 22, 2014 12:00 p.m.

After speaking to the city council, patrons of the Statham Public Library are planning to take their concerns about the proposed city budget cuts to the county.

In a budget workshop a little over a week ago, the Statham City Council decided to cut proposed library funds for fiscal year 2015 from $55,500 to $34,000.

At the following council meeting last Tuesday night, several library employees and patrons voiced their concerns and opinions against this proposed decrease in city funding, while city leaders defended their decision.

Statham Mayor Robert Bridges said it’s time for the county to contribute more funds to the Statham library, and Councilman Perry Barton encouraged library supporters to speak with their county representative about their concerns.

Statham Public Library Manager Mary Spencer said she didn’t think their words at the meeting made a difference.

"I did not feel like (the council) answered the questions," Spencer said. "I felt like they had already made their decision, and what we had to say that night didn’t bear any meaning."

Spencer said some of the library’s patrons are going before the county with their concerns next, but since the county’s fiscal year begins in October and the library’s fiscal year begins in July like the city’s, even if the county were to offer more support, it would be too late for the staff members.

The five current employees of the Statham library are all part-time—making Statham the only library in the region with no full-time employees, said Piedmont Regional Library Director Beth McIntyre —and with the proposed cut to the city funding, two of its employees would have to be laid off, with the hours of the three remaining employees also being decreased.

"Our (fiscal) year begins in July, so we would’ve already had to make our cutbacks before
Barrow County made their decision," Spencer said.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Spencer detailed some of the other foreseeable consequences of the proposed budget cut, including the discontinuation of several children’s programs; the inability to purchase many new books; and the cutting in half of the library’s open hours, which currently number 43 per week.

These effects of the proposed budget cut were acknowledged by the Statham City Council when they first made the decision. City Clerk Harriet Kilpatrick said there would be "huge, immediate consequences to the library" if the cut was made.

"I think they can make it," Bridges said.

He added that the City of Statham would ensure that the library stayed open even if the county did not offer any more funding.

Statham Chief of Police Steve Martin said in the initial budget workshop that a 10-day survey had been conducted on the library patrons, and 40 percent of them were Statham residents, while 60 percent were non-city residents. This data was at least part of the reason behind the council’s decision to propose a budget cut of the amount that they did.

McIntyre compiled a "Statham Public Library Service and Support Q&A" information sheet in defense of the library’s current budget.

According to McIntyre’s information sheet, the library’s PINES computer system shows at least 56 percent of Statham library card holders who live in Barrow County also live within Statham’s city limits.

"This number is underreported mostly because we stopped asking patrons if they live in the city limits about a year ago," McIntyre said in the Q&A. "We believe it is irrelevant. Public libraries are for everyone."

Barton said in Tuesday’s meeting that the City of Statham is a "friend of the library," but that the tightness of the budget is not only affecting the library. The city employees have not received pay raises for six years, Barton said, and the Statham Police Department is down from six vehicles to two.

"It’s not right for everything (from the county), it seems like, going to Winder," Barton said. "We’re not getting support from the county. The library will be looked after, but we have to resolve these problems."

McIntyre said in an email that she believes Barrow County is already doing everything it can for the Statham library, as the county increased its support of its libraries by 22 percent in FY14, and McIntyre expects another increase of about 28 percent in FY15.

The county furnished a little less than $8,000 to the Statham library for FY14, which was its first year providing any funds for that library. McIntyre said this was based on library usage by patrons and not on population, which was to Statham’s benefit.

"I would understand Statham cutting $7,000-$8,000 of library funds since that was their allocation from Barrow County for FY14," McIntyre said in the email. "I wouldn’t like it or agree with it, but it would be reasonable. A cut of more than 40 percent of the budget is not logical."

McIntyre’s Q&A sheet also noted that most other libraries in the region receive at least 70 percent of local funds from their cities, with some even being as high as 94-96 percent. Currently, Statham funds about 74 percent of the library’s budget, but with the proposed decrease, that number would drop to 66 percent.

Spencer said the setback this cut would cause to the library is "devastating."

"I just hate to see the library go back to where it was seven years ago and no longer be able to have children’s programming," Spencer said. "That just breaks my heart."

 

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