Libraries can't extend hours, despite budget bump from council

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 8, 2013 

FILE: Susan Strange of Bluffton browses through the audiobook section at the Bluffton branch of the Beaufort County Library on Sept. 5, 2013.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

When the Beaufort County library system received $166,000 more in the 2014 budget, County Council's chairman thought the money would be used to extend hours at four of the county's five branches.

But the hours haven't changed since the new fiscal year began in July -- and they won't, unless the libraries get another infusion, library board officials say.

Library system director Wlodek Zaryczny and assistant director Jan O'Rourke met Thursday with county administrator Gary Kubic -- the first step in a review ordered by County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville to determine whether library hours can be extended, after all.

"The library board of trustees made that clear: Yes, they do want an increase in library hours," Zaryczny said. "Our community has said that it does want an increase in library hours.

"It all depends on where the county budget stands."

More librarians, assistants and other employees -- and $407,000 to compensate them -- are needed before the library system can extend hours at its Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and St. Helena branches from 40 hours each week to 50, Zaryczny said. One part-time position would be converted to a full-time job, and the system would hire 11 new employees -- seven full-time and four part-time.

Sommerville and Vice Chairman Stu Rodman said they thought the additional $166,000 the council approved in late June -- bringing the libraries' budget to nearly $3,973,000 -- would be enough to increase hours.

However, library board chairwoman Patsy Hand asserted otherwise in an Aug. 21 letter to Sommerville.

It's unclear how the misunderstanding occurred, Sommerville said.

In 2011, library hours were reduced from 68 to 40 per week as part of countywide budget cuts, library board member Bernie Kole said. Those cuts cost the libraries about $1.34 million.

Library officials are concerned the county's system could lose even more funding if it doesn't restore some of the library hours. The library system is applying for its third consecutive waiver of a rule requiring at least one branch to be open 68 hours to be eligible for state funding. Money from the state accounts for about 5.1 percent of the Beaufort County system's 2014 budget, according to Zaryczny.

The county system also falls short of other state requirements -- which are based on the size of the population it serves -- for the amount of materials and computer equipment available.

Hand's letter to Sommerville indicated the system needs about $900,000 in additional funding to fulfill its needs.

The likelihood of the library system losing the state funding is unclear. Waiver applications have become more common in recent years, according to Leesa Benggio, deputy director for the South Carolina State Library. Fourteen of the state's 46 county public library systems have applied for them this year, up from just two or three in a typical year before the economic downturn, Benggio said.

"It's not historically normal," she said. "But it's more prevalent and more common this year and probably next year."

Operating hours and the system's other needs will be discussed when Kubic meets with the library board during its regular monthly meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Bluffton library.

Kubic's review could take several weeks, and he will report back to County Council when it is complete, Sommerville said.

"Maybe we start with smaller steps and open it more hours just so people can use it," Kubic said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content: Did Beaufort County fund more library hours? Despite budget's approval, uncertainty remains, July 6, 2013 http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/07/06/2569417/did-beaufort-county-fund-more.html

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