Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

For the last four years the Macon County Board of Commissioners have allocated $999,390 to the Fontana Regional Library system which operates three libraries in Macon County – the Macon County Public Library, the Hudson Library in Highlands and the Nantahala Library. Executive Director Karen Wallace has requested funding increases from the county for the last few years and without recurring increases, Wallace informed commissioners on Tuesday night that they would be reducing operating hours at the Franklin location.

“We cannot continue to operate Macon County libraries unchanged without an increase in recurring operating funds,” Wallace said to commissioners Tuesday night. “To that end, we will be reducing the hours at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin. The annual savings in personnel costs for the reduction of hours is approximately $8,300.”

The Macon County Public Library is currently open 60 hours a week, Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The library has maintained those operating hours since opening in the current location in April 2007. Beginning immediately after the Labor Day holiday, the library will begin closing at 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, which according to Wallace is the least busiest hour in the library. During the last hour of operation, Wallace said an analysis of traffic to the library shows that anywhere from 33 to 62 people use the library during that hour.

Wallace explained to commissioners that over the past four years, without an increase from Macon County Commissioners, inflation has been on the rise and has affected operations at the library.

“In order to have kept pace with inflation since 2012, the funding for the library should now be $1,049,204, based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said Wallace. “During this time period, the library has expanded its services, particularly in response to growing demand for electric resources like e-books.”

The county allocated two budget additions for the library last fiscal year, once in February and another in June, bringing the county’s total operating allocation to the library to $1,036,990, just $12,215 less than the figure Wallace said would be needed to keep up with inflation.

In February the county allocated $17,600 to the library to purchase 11 computers and tablets for the library. In June, at the request of the library, commissioners allocated an additional $20,000 and allowed the library board to determine how to spend those funds to best support the library.

The library’s original budget proposal to the library cited a need for a $34,000 increase in personnel costs to budget an 11 percent increase in health insurance premiums and a cost of living adjustments for employees because the entry level salaries at the library start at $10 per hour. The library also requested a $22,000 increase in operating costs, $8,000 for library materials such as books, $43,000 for AV and computer equipment replacements, and $13,000 increase for furnishings and fixtures at the Nantahala Community Library.

Out of the needs originally addressed by the library in their budget proposal, the library board decided to take the one-time $20,000 addition from the county and spend it toward recurring personnel expenses that includes employee raises.

The Fontana Regional Library System operates libraries in Swain, Macon, and Jackson counties. Based on per capita expenditures, the Macon County Commissioners allocate $29.20 per person to the library, compared to just $26 in Jackson and $14.2 in Swain. In Macon, the library budget sits at 2.1 percent of the overall budget, compared to 1.6 percent in Jackson and 1.2 percent in Swain.

While Macon County provides the library system with a base allocation of $999,390, they spend an additional $343,255 annually for library-related expenses. Those costs include $225,995 for the loan payment for the 2005 construction of the library building, $61,875 for 1.5 full time maintenance worker’s salary and benefits specifically for the libraries, and $27,197 for the electricity bill each year.