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Wednesday, 09 June 2010 13:39

Haywood budget cuts pose hardship for some library users

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Kaleigh Davis, 12, comes to the Haywood County Public Library with her aunt Marlene Arrington almost every Thursday night. Arrington said the family can’t afford a computer at home so when Davis had to do a project that was a fifth grade requirement, the family depended on the library.

“There’s no way without the library that we could have done it,” Arrington said. “Thursday night is the only time I can come. I work during the day.”

Thursday is the only night of the week the library stays open past 6 p.m. But starting June 14, the Haywood County Public Library will terminate evening hours completely.

The four branches of the Haywood County Public Library system will see about a $60,600 cut in the county’s budget for the upcoming year, according to Julie Davis, Haywood County finance officer. That’s brings the libraries budget down more than 4 percent from last year’s $1.42 million.

This year’s library allotment is about $162,000 less than it was in the 2007-08 budget prior to the recession. “You’ve got to figure out how to keep the doors open and that’s what it comes down to,” County Library Director Robert Busko said. “It’s a big chunk of money to have to make up.”

To deal with the cuts, the Haywood libraries will restrict hours at some libraries, reduce the materials budget and cut one full-time position — the director of the Maggie Valley Branch who is retiring.

“It’s only one position, but it comes on the heels of last year when we lost two full-time and six part-time positions,” Busko said. That year, the county made budget cuts across all county departments in response to the recession.

Fines Creek Public Library will now be open Monday and Wednesday, and the Maggie Valley Public Library will be open on Tuesday and Thursday.

Both libraries were previously open Monday through Thursday.

No hours will be cut at the Canton Branch, which had to cut nine hours of service with last year’s budget cuts, said Nan Williamson, the director of the Canton Public Library.

“We are as skeleton as we can be in providing services to the public,” Williamson said.

Busko said part-time librarians helped cover schedule gaps created by the later night hours and staffers’ summer vacations, but after last year’s cuts, the library now only has one part-time staff member. The small crew makes it near impossible to cover shifts when employees take their vacation.

“My concern was getting into the summer season and getting in a position where we can’t cover the hours,” Busko said. “In my mind, we are going to reinstitute those (evening) hours in the fall.”

But given the lean staffing, a bad flu season or other unseen events could keep the library from having the staff to open the library on Thursday nights again in the fall, Busko said.

The evening hours are critical to some — whether its working parents with schoolchildren or those who simply can’t get away from their jobs during the day to check out a book or use the Internet.

But the library will keep its Saturday hours so those who are on the job during normal workweek hours will still have access.

Alan McRae from Canton is a computer consultant with a flexible schedule. The cuts in the Thursday hours won’t keep him from coming to the library. But McRae said he is concerned about the budget cuts to the libraries and fine arts in general.

“It’s a shame with our financial issues in the States that we have to cut back on all these things,” McRae said. “I hope we do come up with creative solutions to these problems.”

Busko said the library has examined the budget and cut where they could, but a lot of the budget is fixed. Certain line items such as utilities and the Internet can’t be cut, he said.

Last year, the Internet cost the library $10,000 more than anticipated, Busko said. In order to cover it, the library had to move money around from other areas in the budget.

“Right now, there’s no money to move around,” Busko said.

In case something like that happens again, Busko has cut excess money from the new materials budget to save up a reserve.

The total cut to new materials budget is $25,000, which affects the number of copies of new releases that the library can buy.

“Basically we will be working with a book budget that’s been the lowest it’s been in 15 years,” Williamson said, adding that book prices are also much higher than they used to be.

In the past, the library could buy nine or 10 copies of a popular new release. Now they can only afford five or six copies, Busko said. To make sure everyone still gets a chance to read the books, some of the most popular authors and books will have shorter circulation times.

“It inconveniences the reader because they don’t have three weeks to read it, but it insures that everyone gets a fair shot at the materials,” Busko said.

The libraries in Jackson, Swain and Macon counties are a part of the Fontana Regional Library system and have been mostly unscathed by budget cuts.

For the past three years, Macon and Swain counties have not changed library funding.

“We are so fortunate and blessed that the counties don’t cut us at all,” business manager Deb Lawley said. “But our expenses are getting higher and higher, and it’s getting harder to make ends meet.”

Due to a new library in Sylva, scheduled to open in early spring 2011, Jackson County has actually increased library funding by $121,000 to cover the new library’s operation costs for the last four months of the next fiscal year.

The tri-county regional library network receives about 20 percent of its funding from the state, Lawley said. State funds have decreased between five and 10 percent the last two years, Lawley said. Whether the state will again cut the network’s budget for 2010-11 fiscal year remains unknown.

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