State funding for county’s libraries may be withdrawn

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

If you carry a PINES library card in your wallet, you may soon have to say goodbye to it.

Unless the Henry County Board of Commissioners votes to restore the library’s budget to 2010 funding levels, the county’s five libraries stand to lose more than $365,000 in state funding, which includes four state-paid staff positions, use of the state’s PINES and Galileo databases, and other state resources.

Chairman of the Henry County Library System Board of Trustees Dr. Gordon Baker, left, and State Librarian Julie Walker, right, listen as Henry County Library System Director Carolyn Fuller explains graphs showing how county funding over 16 years has not since 2008 kept pace with Henry County’s rise in population. Photo by James Saxton

That was the warning personally addressed by State Librarian Julie Walker to the Henry County Library System Board of Trustee’s monthly meeting Monday in McDonough.

The state’s removal of funding would be through a Georgia statute called the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement that requires that “all total local governmental funding must equal the same amount that it did in the previous year,” Walker said.

She said the requirement for state assistance was put into place “to ensure that libraries around the state are not targets of funding cuts that are not affecting other agencies within our cities and counties.”

Henry County did not meet the MOE requirement beginning in the 2009 fiscal year.

When funding cuts for many county and municipal agencies were rampant with the recession of 2008, the state put into effect a hardship waiver policy that allowed libraries to waive the MOE requirement for one year if every other county department except public safety were cut the same percentage as the library, and there is a plan for restoration of funding as soon as possible.

“You all have done that for several years, explaining to us why your funding was cut, in some years significantly,” Walker said. “It sounds like your county is (financially) coming back, and most other agencies are being restored, so we’ll be looking for your funding to be restored, too. I’m not sure where you are with your budget plans process.”

“We’re at the same point we were last year,” replied Henry County Library System Director Carolyn Fuller. “We are still at 52 furlough days per year, we’re still at being open only 32 hours per week, which is below what the state requires for a library branch at minimum open 40 hours per week, and I have requested more funding every year and I’ve included the [MOE waiver] letter with the funding request, charts and other materials.”

The library system’s annual budget in the fiscal year ended June 30 was $1.475 million, and that will remain this year unless the county board of commissioners acts soon to increase funding, she said. The library had requested last year a million dollars more, $2.475 million, as it replaced the building at the Hampton branch as required. When the funding increase did not happen, the library system had to institute 52 furlough days, one per week, for all staff members to balance the budget.

“We spend every penny to keep the five branches open,” Fuller said. “For us to get back to where we need to be, and open the hours we need to be for the citizens of this county, we need to go back up at least to the $2.475 million, and to really restore all services, we need to be at $3 million because some of our equipment is getting a little long in the tooth, and some of my staff is at $10-15 per hour, which for a person with a master’s degree in library science is pretty awful. We keep losing good staff members because of that.”

No other county agency has furlough days, Fuller said.

There are indications that the Henry County Board of Com-missioners will take a fresh look at the library’s funding woes.

Henry County Distict 3 Commissioner Gary Barham, who attended the meeting, suggested that Fuller and Walker attend the board’s Sept. 6 meeting to make commissioners more acutely aware of the threatened state funds. Both agreed. To the state librarian Barham said, “I think if it comes from you, that ‘your library system is about to be a complete failure due to your lack of funding,’ I believe they’ll be listening.”

Barham also asked Fuller to give the board at that time a realistic picture of what services could be restored and what hours the five branches could be open if the board restores the budget to the 2010 level of a $2.475 million budget. Fuller agreed.

With other county agency budgets being restored to previous levels, the library funding issue has become vital, the state librarian warned.

“A consequence of not meeting the Maintenance of Effort requirement is a loss of some or all of your state services,” Walker said. “That includes the library automation services like PINES, and Galileo, your Internet access, your summer reading materials, the major repair and renovation grant, the computer replacement grant and the book money from the Legislature.

“If your county board can’t in good conscience say that Henry County is meeting the Maintenance of Effort and apply for a waiver and prove that every effort has been made and the library is being treated the same as every other county agency, all those things are at risk.”