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Libraries face more cuts
[April 09, 2010]

Libraries face more cuts

SEBRING, Apr 09, 2010 (Highlands Today - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- In the good times four years ago, Florida appropriated $32 million for its libraries. The recession has steadily reduced that amount until 2009, when the Legislature came up with $21.3 million.

This year, the Senate is offering $15 million. The House is suggesting $1.5 million.

What does this mean to the Highlands County library system? If all 67 counties divide $15 million, Highlands can expect to receive $80,000 fewer dollars than last year, Mary Myers said.

If those counties have to scrap over $1.5 million, Highlands will get just a few thousand.

Assuming the best-case scenario, how will that $80,000 be made up? "Whew. I don't even want to speculate on that," Myers said. She was in a director's meeting Wednesday morning, where all of the county's department heads were told to implement zero-based budgeting. That means zeroing out every line item in the budget and starting from scratch.

Myers discussed three possibilities: -- Closing more. The library is currently open Tuesday through Saturday.

-- Layoffs or furloughs. Last year, both options were considered by county commissioners. A college-trained librarian costs about $50,000 a year in salary and benefits; library helpers like front-desk employees draw about $20,000 annually.

-- Fewer books, magazines and DVDs.

Safe for now: computer and Internet services, as well as the courier service that brings books borrowed from other libraries. Those programs are provided in the Heartland cooperative budget.

Highlands is part of the five-county coalition with DeSoto, Glades, Hardee and Okeechobee. That's part of the good news: "The cooperatives, they get their funding off the top," said Myers, the library director.

Even so, Internet and courier services depend on the $15 million offered by the Senate, and that money is uncertain, said state Rep. Denise Grimsley.

State money The state is about $3 billion short in its own budget.

"The Senate does propose $15 million for state aid to libraries," Grimsley said. "However, this funding is contingent on (federal) stimulus dollars that we have not received.

"Without stimulus," she warned, "the Senate has no funding in the budget for libraries at all." But, she added, "The budget is a long way from being finished." County response "I don't know what we're going to do," said County Commissioner Guy Maxcy, who is the board's liaison to the library system. "Is the county going to cough up $80,000? I don't know how we can." County Administrator Mike Wright has said the county is facing a $12 million shortfall. Other commissioners and constitutional officers don't consider that a real number, and suggest the county can withdraw from its rainy day account and other funds, like solid waste.

Hillsborough County has ordered five furlough days to save money. Administrative offices, libraries, senior citizen centers, clerk of the courts, property appraiser, and nutrition sites are closed; essential services like solid waste collection, tax collections patient transport remain open.

Maxcy hopes Wright will bring such ideas to the budget table, but it didn't fly with Commissioner Jeff Carlson: "I wouldn't want to close government for a day." He would rather reduce the salaries of county workers.

However, judging from last year's lack of cutbacks and this year's budget discussions, Carlson said, "I don't anticipate many cuts this year." Cuts need to be made, Carlson emphasized. "I just don't see it happening." Maxcy plans to talk with Myers and members of the library board to determine their preferences, but he prefers a pay cut, furloughs or closing an extra day to layoffs.

Highlands Today reporter Gary Pinnell can be reached at 863-386-5828 or [email protected] To see more of Highlands Today or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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