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Cut freezes librarian position

Another state-funded agency recently received news of drastic cuts in funding, and local officials are working to make ends meet.

Members on the board of the Thomson-McDuffie County Library met Tuesday afternoon with Regional Library Director Lillie Crowe. At the meeting, Ms. Crowe announced that the full-time librarian position was frozen by the state. So, when Thomson's librarian, Suzan Harris, retires at the end of March, the state will not fund a replacement.

Ms. Harris has been at the Thomson-McDuffie Library since 1997, but has worked as a certified librarian in Georgia for 34 years. She was named a Top Employee of the Year in 2007 for the Bartram Trail Regional Library System.

"This position is crucial to the continued success of this library," Ms. Crowe said during the meeting.

Board members discussed different options, including donations, cutting back hours, and seeking help from other governmental agencies.

"These days and times, you get thrown curve balls all the time. You just have to be flexible and work with it," said Jim LeBrun, the vice-chairman of the library board.

PART-TIME LIBRARIAN AND HOURS

After Ms. Harris retires, she can work part-time for the library. But hours of operation would have to be cut back to 36, meaning the library would be closed on Monday and Saturday. In their discussion, board members tagged this option "Plan B."

Because hours were cut in November with a previous budget cut, the library now closes at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. So, Saturday is the only day some people are able to go there.

Even with the reduced hours, 56,674 people walked through the doors of the library from July 2009 until June 2010. Ms. Harris said more than 29,000 people used the 21 public-access computers, more than 47,000 books and recordings were checked out, and 651 children participated in the summer reading program.

Many people hold meetings and functions in the library's multi-purpose room each week; and the Social Security Administration sends a representative two days a month and the Insurance Commission sends one every other month so people don't have to drive to Augusta for those services.

"Plan B is just not an option," board member Bea Hart-Moss said.

HELP FROM THE CITY AND COUNTY

The local library board unanimously approved for Ms. Crowe to visit city and county officials and see if they could each provide $12,000 a year to fund a full-time librarian.

Later that evening at the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners meeting, County Manager Don Norton presented the request to commissioners. Mr. Norton pointed out that because the funds will not be needed until June of next year, the amount would only be $6,000 that first year.

County Chairman Charlie Newton opened the floor for discussion, saying he did not use the library himself.

"I'm wondering how much it will matter to close the library two days compared to trying to find the money to keep it open," Mr. Newton said.

Mr. Norton said closing the library a couple of days would be "pretty bad for the community."

"But not having a professional in there running things would be even worse," he said. "A lot of the staff at the library is turning over, so it'd help to have some leadership in there."

Because they had taken away a vacant position in the license/zoning department, Mr. Norton said the county had saved $9,000 on their upcoming budget. So, the commissioners reached a general consensus to pay their portion of the library funds for the upcoming year.

The Thomson City Council is expected to address the issue at their next meeting.

OTHER OPTIONS

Mr. Newton said the commissioners would go back and look at the issue again if the money is needed in 2011-2012.

"We might have to seek other options, such as raising money through private donations from the public," he said. "That might be better than placing the burden on the taxpayers."

He didn't know the library board had discussed a similar option at their meeting earlier.

Ms. Crowe told the McDuffie County library board that the Washington library held book drives and received all their books through donations.

"Maybe you could consider doing that," she said. "Relieving the book budget would allow funds to be used for personnel."



Web posted on Thursday, September 23, 2010













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