Did Beaufort County fund more library hours? Despite budget's approval, uncertainty remains

cconley@ilsandpacket.comJuly 6, 2013 

A week into the new fiscal year, it still isn't clear whether money was included in the 2013-14 spending plan to expand library hours.

Although the Beaufort County Council chairman and vice chairman insist the money is there, library system director Wlodek Zaryczny said he's heard varying responses to that question.

"Some folks think yes, some folks think no," he said Friday. "The bottom line on this is, we are waiting for the numbers to be finished up in Finance."

Library hours were cut to 40 a week at the county's five branches in June 2011 as part of countywide belt tightening. Since then, a few council members have tried to restore those hours.

Council Vice Chairman Stu Rodman, who leads the Finance Committee and helped draft the $99.35 million budget, said money is available to extend hours to 50 a week at the Beaufort, St. Helena Island, Hilton Head Island and Bluffton branches.

"We voted on it back in the beginning of June to put it in," Rodman said. "Everyone wanted to do it, and it's always been in there."

The council approved $3.97 million for libraries in the budget, up from $3.93 million last year, according to data provided by Councilman Steve Baer.

Those figures could not be independently confirmed.

County administrator Gary Kubic, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill and county spokeswoman Joy Nelson were unavailable for comment Friday.

'NO ONE KNOWS'

Baer says the uncertainty over library hours stems from a haphazard budget process that "generated a lot of paper but not a lot of transparency."

Baer, who is resigning July 31, said budget drafts changed frequently without a clear understanding of which line-items changed with them.

He also said there were multiple budget versions under consideration at the same time -- a concern shared by Councilman Jerry Stewart -- making it difficult to know where various items stood.

For these reasons, Baer says, "no one knows" whether library hours were extended or not.

Council Chairman Paul Sommerville disagrees that the budget review was sub-par or slapdash.

He also disputes Baer's assertion that no one knows if the expanded hours have been funded.

"We approved money for (longer) library hours," he said.

Sommerville says council's budgeting authority is really about setting spending limits. Decisions on how that money is spent, he said, are left to department heads.

"What council can do is, we can say, 'We want more library hours, and we want you to put money in the budget for that,' " he said.

Sommerville also says budgets are "fungible," giving administrators room to make decisions within a department midway through the year as conditions and needs change.

Zaryczny said he hopes for a final answer from the Finance Department soon.

Assuming money is available in the budget for extending hours, library officials will then determine if new employees are needed to cover the extra hours before actually making the change.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Baer to resign from Beaufort County Council, June 24, 2013

Baer: Library under-spending raises questions, June 16, 2013

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