The message from Anne Haimes, interim director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, wasn’t good news.
In balancing the 2014 budget, county commissioners sliced into libraries’ operations.
“As many of you are aware, the board of commissioners approved the final 2014 budget on Jan. 27. The library system’s budget was cut by approximately $6 million, and in order to make the necessary adjustments, we considered critical needs within the library system at all locations and identified gaps that most directly affect service delivery,” Haimes wrote.
“The changes include the reduction in library hours, which will go from 1,562 to 996, as well as the elimination of 70 part-time positions and approximately 38 unfunded full-time vacation positions….Each of the branch libraries will be closing on Fridays, and 20 branches will close a second day of the week. We worked to ensure that this is done geographically, so that patrons may visit a library close by on a day their own might be closed. All weekend hours were kept intact. “
Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who represents north Fulton, voted against the county budget proposal.
“My question overall is, where are our priorities? With significant cuts that effect community programs, libraries and other county services, the board of commissioners voted to approve a budget that is balanced by spending the reserve fund and implementing a millage rate increase of 1.57 mils to fund a 3 percent pay raise for all Fulton County employees,” she wrote in one of her newsletters.
“While I appreciate rewarding employees with a small increase in pay, to do so with a tax increase is irresponsible. It is even more difficult to understand cutting significant library services and hours as construction is underway to build eight new libraries.”
That question also bothers Friends of East Roswell Library founding member Eileen Seidman.
“Why cut back on libraries? They are the backbone of the community,” she said.
“Libraries are used more now, than ever before. Tax revenues are going up and so are wasted dollars. Cut some where else.”
Stephanie Moody, who chairs the Fulton County Library board of trustees and lives in Alpharetta, said she has been fielding questions on the cuts.
“I have received letters from area residents questioning why their branches are closing, especially on Saturday morning and all day Friday throughout the county except for the central library and Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta,” she said.
“This decision was not made by the library board of trustees. It was developed by a library administrative team and approved by the board of commissioners. I strenuously objected to it then and I object to it now.”
Every year since 2008, the library has had to cut its operating budget, leave positions unfilled, eliminate programs, and reduce its number of purchased materials, Moody said.
“The threat of reduced hours and closed doors always loomed, but never materialized until this year in large part because the library board chooses to leave positions unfilled and draw from the materials budget in order to keep the doors open and give residents access to the materials we did have,” she said.
Haimes wrote that “the positive points to keep in mind include the fact that no branches were closed in this process; all weekend hours, our most heavily used, were kept intact; and we as a library system still offer more service hours than other surrounding counties.”
The 2014 county budget does include funds to open and operate the new libraries under construction and set to open during this year and early 2015.
Those new libraries include facilities in Roswell, Milton and Alpharetta.