Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Without additional funds from the county, Macon County’s Public Library once again reduced operating hours this week. Beginning Tuesday, the Macon County Public Library changed operating hours at the library to open at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m.

“We understand that you’re disappointed we’ve had to cut library hours,” said Karen Wallace, director of the Macon County Public Library. “We are too. The library hasn’t had an increase in funding from Macon County for five years but our costs have gone up.  Books get more expensive, we now buy ebooks along with print books, and equipment needs to be repaired or replaced. To balance our budget, we had to lay off some of our staff.  With fewer staff to run the library, we are stretched really thin.  We wanted to keep our evening and Saturday hours so that working people and students could continue to use the library. The best option was to open one hour later in the morning.  We’re still open 50 hours per week here at this library.  We also have libraries in Nantahala and Highlands that are open 30 and 36 hours per week.”

The reduction in operating hours this week marks the second consecutive year the library has reduced their hours. Last year, citing the same reasons, the library changed the library closing times to reduce the library’s hours by four hours per week. The most recent reduction, paired with a reduction in staff, will save the library nearly $50,000.

“We reduced our staffing hours at the main library by 60 hours per week [1 full-time and 1 part-time employee],” said Wallace. “That reduction in savings was approximately $45,000.  We reduced our operating hours by six hours per week [from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., six days per week].  With both staffing and operating hours reductions, we’ve maintained the same ratio of operating hours to staffing hours:  approximately 12 staff per operating hour.”

Wallace said the only other impact by the lack of a budget increase from the county was in staffing in the computer lab.

“We still provide assistance to those needing help with digital services, but people may have to wait a little longer for that help,” said Wallace. “In some cases, we recommend making an appointment for one-on-one assistance.”

Wallace said the all other programs are operating as usual at this time.

“We hope to be able to continue our community outreach to schools, childcare centers, community events, business and non-profit initiatives,” she said. “Our staff makes every effort to meet the needs of Macon County citizens, whether or not they come in to the library.”

When asking for an increase in funding from the county, Wallace cited employee raises as one of the needs for the request the last two years. Last year, while decreasing library operating hours, employees were given a small increase, according to Wallace. This year, Wallace wanted to bring employees salaries from $10.50 to $11 with the additional funds requested from the county. Wallace said while that was part of the request, it wasn’t the focus of this year’s need for additional funds from county commissioners.

“The Library’s budget request was needed to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in its Long Range Plan,” said Wallace. “This plan provides services for our citizens in the areas of education, employment and economy, health and mental health, connectivity, diversity, and recreation and leisure. The library has proven that it is able to deliver services effectively and efficiently by increasing access to a growing number of resources, assisting all citizens with their information needs, and improving quality of life for the people who live and visit Macon County. We provide our services at our libraries, online, and, increasingly, wherever people need information.”

Wallace said that the increase that the library requested was to pay for:

·         General increase in operating expenses

·         Increases in the cost of equipment maintenance

·         Replacement of computers and other aging equipment and fixtures (including some XP computers)

·         Increases in the cost of personnel benefits

·         To provide minimal salary raises for the library staff

According to the Macon County Public Library’s 2016-17 budget, total expenditures for the library totaled $866,650. Of the library’s overall budget, $91,346 was used for operating expenses, $65,300 was spent on collection materials such as new books and electronic resources, and the remaining $710,004 of the library’s overall budget was spent on personnel expenses.

Wallace said more money is needed from the county based on the rate of inflation.

“The cumulative rate of inflation since 2012 is nearly 7 percent,” said Wallace. “The county’s funding for the library’s operating budget has remained nearly flat over the past five years.  There has been an increased demand for library services during that time.  For example, 2012 was the first year we began providing ebooks and downloadable audiobooks, but many people still want print books.  But remember that your public library is more than just books.  Lifelong learning can take many forms, from early literacy programs and STEM activities for school age children, to citizen science and author presentations for adults, and keeping up with all rapidly changing mobile and digital technologies.”

While the bulk of the library’s budget comes from county taxpayers, Wallace noted that the library makes every effort to raise funds as allowed as well.

“We do fundraising activities, grant writing, and other things to supplement the funding that the county provides,” said Wallace. “We appreciate the commitment Macon County makes to funding the library at the level they can. We are hopeful that that funding will increase in the future.”

Macon County Manager Derek Roland noted that Macon County provides more funding than any other county located within the Fontana Regional Library System.

“The Fontana Regional Library System which encompasses three counties (Jackson, Macon and Swain) controls all library operations which includes decisions surrounding hours of operation in each of the counties,” said Roland. “The responsibility of Macon County as it relates to our county libraries is to ensure our library system has appropriate funding to operate the libraries in Macon County.  We have remained committed to our libraries in FY ’17-’18  as we continue to contribute a higher percentage of our $50,000,000 budget to library operations than any other county in the Fontana Regional Library System [at $999,390 annually or 2% of the FY ’17-’18 budget].”

This funding level is representative of $29.1 per Macon County resident.  In addition to this nearly $1,000,000 annual appropriation, Macon County also provides the Fontana Regional Library System with maintenance workers, pays for utilities in Franklin and Highlands and continues to make the principal and interest payments on the loan for the 2005 construction of the Franklin library.

“These additional payments total approximately $321,493 annually,” said Roland. “Thus, when everything is considered, nearly 3% or $1.32M of our overall operating budget goes towards operating the Fontana Regional Library System in Macon County.  This funding level is representative of approximately $40 per Macon County citizen that Macon County spends annually on library operations.  Since FY ’15-’16 Macon County has also given the Fontana Regional Library System two, one-time allocations totaling $37,600 for the purchase of new computers and additional staff expenditures.”

Macon County Funding compared to surrounding counties: 

Macon County FY ’17-’18 Recommended Budget- $49,587,927

Macon County FY ’17-’18 Fontana Regional- $999,390

Macon County FY ’17-’18 Library %- 2.0%

Per Capita Library Spending-  $29.1 per person (2016 US Census Estimate of 34,376)

 

·         Jackson County FY ’17-’18 Recommended Budget -$62,522,670

Jackson County FY ’17-’18 Fontana Regional -$1,098,154

Jackson County FY ’17-’18 Library %- 1.75%

Per Capita Library Spending – $26.0 per person (2016 US Census Estimate of 42,241)

 

·         Swain County FY 17-18’ Recommended Budget-  $15,000,000

Swain County FY 17-18’ Fontana Regional- $210,000

Swain County FY 17-18’ Library%-1.4%

Per Capita Library Spending-$14.6 per person (2016 US Census Estimate of 14,346)

 

Additional funds to Fontana Regional Library (Annually)

In addition to the $999,390 allocation to Fontana Regional Library Macon County also contributes the following:

• FY ’16-’17 Loan Payment for 2005 Macon County Library Construction –  $218,615

• Macon Library 1 ½ Full Time Maintenance Worker Salary and Benefits –   $59,950

• FY ’16-’17 Macon County Water and Sewer Bill-  $4,209

• FY ’16-’17 Macon County Electricity Bill – $27,135

• FY 16-17’ Hudson Library Garbage , Water and Sewer Bill – $11,584

• Nantahala Library Maintenance – Macon County performs all maintenance as needed

• Total in addition to $999,390 allocation: $321,493

• Total annual funds to Fontana Regional Library $1,320,883

2.66% of FY ’17-’18 Operating Budget

$38.42 Per Capita Library Spending

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