Beaufort County library hours are likely to be extended by about 10 hours per week at most branches, but not until at least January, county officials say.
Branches in Beaufort, Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island should be open 50 hours a week sometime early in the new year. The St. Helena Island and Lobeco branches would remain at 40 hours per week, county administrator Gary Kubic said Tuesday.
The longer hours can't start sooner because the library system doesn't have enough money to do so right away. Kubic and library officials say they are reworking the budget so that extended hours can be funded through about the final six months of the 2014 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Beaufort County Council members thought they had allocated enough money in the current budget -- nearly $3,973,000 -- to extend hours at all branches, except the Lobeco library, soon after the budget was approved last summer. However, that amount was only enough to maintain existing hours and staffing, so hours weren't extended at the county's five libraries, library officials have said.
"Apparently there was some confusion, which could have been avoided with a little more care by all parties concerned," library trustee Bernie Kole said. "It's not going to happen again next year."
County and library staff members are working out the details that will allow longer hours with current or slightly increased staffing levels, library system director Wlodek Zaryczny said.
But it won't be easy, he said.
"The staff level we have at 40 hours currently was designed to handle those hours," Zaryczny said. "We are on a skeletal budget; it's not like we've got a lot of slack."
But with a smaller time frame -- just six months and three libraries, instead of a year and four branches, as called for in the original plan -- the library system should be able to stay within its budget and extend hours, Kubic said.
The library is trying to operate more efficiently by improving the use of technology, like holding more teleconferences to save time and travel costs, Zaryczny said. It's already using self-checkout machines and automated materials-handling to improve efficiency at each branch, he added.
Last week, Kubic directed community services director Morris Campbell and interim chief financial officer Alicia Holland to draft a new business plan for the library for the first half of 2014, detailing staff levels and operation costs.
"Focus on what can be done, not what cannot be done," he wrote in an email to them.
On Tuesday, Kubic asked Campbell and deputy county administrator Bryan Hill to determine the minimum amount of staffing needed to increase hours.
Based on what they find, Campbell and Hill will post on the county website additional library jobs that must be filled in order to extend hours, Kubic said.
"We would like to have something available for the general public as early as sometime in January, but definitely in February," he said.
For the next fiscal year, the library can begin to craft long-term solutions for its hours, Kole said. As for the short-term, "if we can get the library hours up to 50, then there's a certain amount of improvement for public access."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.