By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
The Dade County
Library, already operating on a reduced 30-hour-a-week schedule since last
July, will react to increasingly bleak financials by closing its doors an
additional day weekly. Aug. 3 will be the last Saturday the library is open.
local board of directors met Thursday to discuss this and other developments
from a meeting of the regional board earlier in the week. Dade’s library is a
branch of the Cherokee Regional Library System, which includes three libraries
in Walker County, none of which could be reasonably described as financially
secure – the LaFayette library recently boarded up its 90-percent complete
renovation – but Dade’s branch is in especially hot water.
in particular is in a $22,000 deficit,” Lecia Eubanks, director of the regional
system, told the Dade board.
She said the
library had done a pretty good job controlling expenses and had taken in more
in fees and overdue fines than had been expected. “When it was all said and
done, we finished the year only short about $8,000,” she said.
library’s is now dipping into its meager reserves to survive, she said, a
situation that is not sustainable. The library’s “revenue options” on the
projected red-ink fiscal 2014 budget include two certificates of deposit coming
to $13,334 and a $29,270 fund equity Ms. Eubanks said it took the library 20
years to amass, for a total of $42,604.
“That will hold
us this year. It will not help us next year,” said Ms. Eubanks.
To tighten its
belt, the Dade library has further reduced the hours of its manager, Marshana
Sharp, the only employee allowed enough hours to receive benefits, but despite
that has no choice but to hire two more part-timers to make up for the loss of
the Department of Labor workers salaried by a federal grant since the tornados
of spring 2011.
“We’re the only
ones that still have them,” said Ms. Sharp. “Well, it’s official. They’ll be
gone by Aug. 3.”
library is trying to spread out the number of payable hours to the maximum
number of employees – “We need bodies,” said Ms. Eubanks – to keep individual
libraries open, and the system is also trying to tweak the operating hours so
that a patron can find at least one of the four Cherokee Regional branches open
six days a week, even if the branch is not in that patron’s home county.
In the face of
this, library usage is up and expected to increase. Circulation has grown from
14 items per hour that the library was open in fiscal 2012 to 31 per hour in
fiscal 2013. Ms. Sharp said parents had asked her whether her summer reading
program, which was heavily attended but is now complete, could not be extended
to resumption of school this fall. She added that the Dade County Board of
Education had discontinued its pre-school program and that the program’s
director had told parents to take their children guess where?
“Ms. Diane told
them the library has programs, go to the library,” said Ms. Sharp. “If we don’t
have help, I don’t know how we’ll do it.”
It was at the
Dade County Board of Education’s door that board member Eddie Pittman
unambiguously laid the library’s current woes. “There’s really no other way to
put it,” he said.
Eubanks about the events of last spring and summer – “At any time did you get a
letter from anybody at the board of education?” – he revisited the board of
education’s sudden and unannounced decision to withdraw all funding for the
library. Until current Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin recommended pulling
the plug, the board of education had shared local funding of the library with
the other two Dade taxing authorities, the Dade County and Trenton City
Tobin and the B
of E went ahead with their 2012 decision to zero out library funding despite
three packed public hearings at which attendees begged them to reconsider. At
budget hearings this year, library proponents again asked for reinstatement,
but without much expectation of success and certainly they attained none.
kept up its end, though its contribution is down from $30,000-plus in previous
years to $24,000 for fiscal 2014, and Dade County, though also hurting right
now (see county commission article), managed to increase its share by $2,600,
to a total of $67,400.
proponents made up the school board portion of the budget last year through a
massive fund drive, and Ms. Sharp said checks had continued to trickle in,
especially for the summer reading program.
“We got through
this year, and the donations are part of the reason why,” agreed Ms. Eubanks.
income needs to pick up if the library is to survive, she said.
board will be talking about the shutdown plan in January if the revenues don’t
come back,” said Ms. Eubanks. “It’s just math.”
She said her
hopes for one possible solution, getting a portion of county millage rates
dedicated to library maintenance – a measure that has also been suggested in
Dade – had recently been shot down in Walker County.
In Walker, Sole
Commissioner Bebe Heiskell and County Attorney Don Oliver had briefly
considered putting the proposal to referendum this November, said Ms. Eubanks.
But Oliver had subsequently called her and told her it would never pass, she
said, adding that he and Ms. Heiskell feared putting it to a vote would kill a
proposed SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) Walker has on the
ballot this November. Citizens turning out to nix the library tax, they
worried, would vote against the SPLOST while they were at it, said Ms. Eubanks.
change the fact that our libraries aren’t going to survive another year,” said
Ms. Eubanks. “How are we going to plan? Especially in Rossville, we don’t have
She said many
people don’t realize how desperately libraries need their help to stay open.
“There’s a disconnect there,” she said. “They think the money comes from little
gnomes or fairies.”
After Aug. 3,
the Dade library’s proposed schedule is 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m. -6 p.m.
Thursday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday.