Athens Regional Library System leaders asked member of the Oconee Library Board of Trustees on Monday to contact their state legislative delegation to oppose cuts to library funding requested by Gov. Brian Kemp.
Jean Mead, assistant director of Regional Library Services and Outreach for the Athens Regional Library System, told the Library Board that Kemp has included public libraries in his request that certain state agencies submit plans for a 4 percent budget reduction for the fiscal year underway.
The money likely will be taken from the materials grant the state makes to libraries, according to Mead.
The legislature, which meets in January, will respond to the proposed budget cuts and to the governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget “so things may change considerably during this process,” Mead told the Oconee Library Board.
“Please contact everybody and tell them that we obviously don’t want these changes to happen,” Mead said.
Nature Of Cuts
The materials grant from the state is based on a formula. In the current fiscal year, libraries were to receive $0.35 per capita for materials, Mead told the Board, meeting at the Bogart Library.
|Mead (Left) And Bell|
The per person payment had been reduced after the fiscal crisis of 2008, and the current fiscal year was the first year it had reached its pre-recession level of $0.35, Mead said.
Mead told the Library Board that the formula for the 4 percent cut would have to be reduced to $.23 per person, but Valerie Bell, Athens Regional Library System director, told me in a telephone conversation today, it will have to be reduced to $.20.
It had been $0.25 in Fiscal Year 2018 and $0.30 in Fiscal Year 2019, Bell said.
For Oconee County’s two libraries–which get a part of the state allocation to the Athens Regional Library System–that means a reduction of $5,513, according to Bell.
The county’s two libraries are in Bogart and Watkinsville.
Bell told me that the Oconee County Libraries received $9,277 as part of the state materials grant in Fiscal Year 2018 and $11,338 in 2019 and are budgeted to receive $13,468 for the current fiscal year.
With the budget cuts, the $13,468 will be reduced to $7,955.
Arguments To Make
“It’s not a done deal,” Bell told the Board on Monday. “We’ll find out in January.”
“The money has been held up, let’s put it that way,” Bell said. “We’re not allowed to spend any of that money. But hopefully we’ll get it back in January.”
Bell circulated a document containing eight “talking points” from the Georgia Public Library Service for Library Board members to use in talking with Oconee County’s Rep. Houston Gaines, Rep. Marcus Wiedower, and Sen. Bill Cowsert. They are all Republicans, as is Kemp.
“Libraries are an important part of the educational landscape in Georgia,” the document states as one of its arguments. “Other education funding formulas are exempt from these reductions, and libraries should be too.”
Mead told the Oconee Library Board of Trustees that the budget cuts also have resulted in the elimination of outreach service locations of the Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services (GLASS).
One of the eliminated locations is Athens, and the result is that a collaboration of GLASS and Extra Special People in Watkinsville will not continue beyond the end of this calendar year, Mead said.
The state funds contribute to the operation of the two Oconee County libraries, but most of the money comes from local sources.
Cara Karnes, Oconee County Branch Managing Librarian, reviewed the $539,542 Fiscal Year 2020 budget at the Oconee Library Board meeting on Monday. The budget shows $20,385 for books and audio visual materials. The funds from state grants are on top of those included in the local budget.
The local monies come from Oconee County governments, local library fines and fees, and local copying charges, and, according to both Bell and Karnes, will not be affected by the state budget cuts.
The bulk of the operating costs of Oconee County’s two libraries come from funds from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners ($446,245) , with lesser amounts coming from the Board of Education ($30,000), the city of Watkinsville ($22,000) , and the city of Bogart ($6,500).
If the state budget cuts hold for this fiscal year, the Oconee County libraries will see a drop in their materials costs for books and audio visual materials from the budgeted amount based on state and local sources of $33,853 to $28,340. That is a decline of 16.3 percent.
To compound the problem, Mead told the Library Board on Monday, Macmillan Publishers is introducing an embargo policy for the new release of e-books that will greatly increase library costs. Other publishers are likely to follow that lead, she said.
Transition Of Leadership
The Library Board meeting on Monday ended with election of new officers.
The Board approved Mark Campbell as chair, Rubielen Norris as vice chair, and Laura French as secretary.
Robert Wyatt, current chair, will be leaving the Library Board after serving 10 years, the maximum allowed. With his departure, the Board will have five openings to be filled by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.
Wyatt said at the end of the meeting that he was “drafted” to serve as chair in his third year on the Library Board.
During his time on the Board, Wyatt said, he had witnessed many changes, including the renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library and the planned replacement of the Watkinsville Library (officially the Oconee County Library).
“As we approach a new era, with a lot of turnover on the Board, I’m not worried because I know we have proven leaders who will step up,” Wyatt said. “And we have a solid base to which we will add enthusiastic new members with new approaches and new ideas.
“So I just like to thank all of you for your help,” he said.
The video below is of the entire meeting of the Oconee Library Board of Trustees on Oct. 14.
Mead began her report at 8:36 in the video and was followed by comments by Bell.
Wyatt made his comments at 39:26 in the video.