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The Dade County Public Library is facing more financial woes and will now be closed on Saturdays. Patrons will only be able to visit the library on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

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.

The library’s 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.

“This library 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.

But the 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.”

Systemwide, the 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.

Questioning Ms. 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 commissions.

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.

Trenton has 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.

Library 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.

But regular income needs to pick up if the library is to survive, she said. 

“The regional 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.

“That doesn’t 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 another year.”

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. 



Visitor Comments
Submitted By: Curtis Mayfield Submitted: 7/31/2013
Mrs. Robin Ford Wallace... In you next article would you please state how much money Ms. Eubanks earns per year? Also, has she ever take any furlow days like most teachers have in the state of GA? Perhaps by reducing her days per week and pay, or replacing her with someone with a more modest salary you could easily make up the $22,000 deficit.

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