The library system still needs to recruit candidates for several positions, so there is no set start date for the new hours, according to library officials.
The Beaufort County library system has the money it needs to extend hours at three of its branches, and it's now just a matter of hiring more employees, according to county and library officials.
Interviews and screening are underway, and library system director Wlodek Zaryczny said he hopes to begin extended hours "within a relatively short period of time."
No exact date has been determined yet.
The plan eventually will take the Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island branches from 40 to 50 hours per week, Zaryczny said.
The county authorized the library system to hire 17 additional employees last fall, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said. Since then, library officials have recommended the hiring of about eight candidates, which must be approved by the county's Employee Services Division, Zaryczny said.
Six positions are still listed on the county website and need to be filled before there is enough staff to increase hours, Zaryczny said. Two of those positions are professional-level coordinators and managers, which are more difficult to find, so the library is advertising in state and national professional journals, he added.
Hiring has moved slowly, but Hill and Zaryczny said they are ready to increase hours as soon as the staff is hired and trained.
Confusion has riddled discussions about the library system's budget and hours, but Hill insists the funding to hire staff and increase hours is in the system's $3.9 million budget approved by County Council last June.
For the past four years, the library system has underspent its budget by about $300,000 because it has held positions vacant, Hill said. But by county rules, money not spent at the end of the year returns to the general fund.
Each year the county has continued to fund those vacant positions, and last year, County Council approved a $166,000 budget increase for the library system, Hill said. Based on the amount the library has typically returned, that increase would be enough to pay for the extra hours, Hill said.
Last summer, library officials weren't convinced enough funding had been allocated and made two requests for additional money, in August and September. Ultimately, it asked County Council to consider allocating $300,000 to extend hours at the Beaufort and Bluffton branches. Those requests were not granted.
Instead, County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville ordered staff to review the library system's budget and ability to extend hours. Hill began that review in September and authorized the system to hire additional employees within its original $3.9 million budget.
"Do you have the funding available for 50 hours? The answer is yes," Hill said. "Do you have the staff for those additional hours? No, not yet."
Even with more employees, the library will have a "skeletal" staff, Zaryczny said. Earlier this month, library trustees approved an initial budget request for a funding increase that would include more hires, he said.
However, another library budget increase is unlikely because the county is considering budget cuts this year to offset rising health care costs, county administrator Gary Kubic said. Instead of a larger request, Kubic said he would like to see the libraries stretch their existing staff to offer more access with extended hours.
"Obviously there's a difference of opinion there, and that has to be reconciled, because that difference of opinion amounts to a lot of money," Sommerville said.
Sommerville has assigned Councilman Steve Fobes to work with the library system on its budget. Last week, Fobes met with Hill, Zaryczny and library trustee Anna Maria Tabernik to discuss the library's current budget and projections for next fiscal year.
Fobes told County Council on Monday he hopes to dive deeper into the library trustees' initial budget request when the trustees elect a new chairman next month.
"Everybody here knows (the library budget confusion) is an awkward thing," Sommerville said. "We all feel badly about it, but we do have to resolve it."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.