Beaufort County library leaders hope they won't have to reduce hours after all, now that new director Ray McBride is leading the system.
The library board of trustees has gone back and forth this spring on whether the system can afford to keep its most-visited branches open longer, and announced last month that budget constraints would force it to cut hours again in June.
Now the trustees are calling "time out" on the plan to reduce hours, while McBride studies how current staff and open positions can be used within the system's existing funding levels to keep the hours intact.
On Wednesday, the trustees unanimously agreed to give McBride 90 days to create a budget and hours report before implementing any cuts, if necessary. They also have postponed a requirement that he set aside $300,000 within the library budget for books and materials.
McBride says he hopes he can show the trustees that shifting some staff and filling some vacant positions still included in the budget will avoid such reductions.
"I hope I can bring a fresh set of eyes to the challenges facing our library system," he said. "I'm not a traditional director. I believe public libraries today must be run as a business. They must be effective and efficient; otherwise, they won't survive the realities of the county budget process. ... There is absolutely no reason our library system cannot be the best in South Carolina."
In particular, the system needs to address strained staff levels at its Bluffton and St. Helena Island branches, he said. For example, a new children's services manager will start in St. Helena on Monday, he added.
"I think this is a very carefully thought-out decision to delay both the implementation of the reduction of hours and the materials budget," board chairman Bernie Kole said. "We have plenty of time to let Mr. McBride get a better feel for everything. I strongly support this."
The 90-day review also will have a calming effect on the library system, McBride and trustees said Wednesday.
Relations between the trustees and county administrators have been turbulent at best over the past 18 months, as leaders have locked horns over whether the library's $3.9 million budget can support the trustees' hard-fought plan for extended hours.
A new director -- with more than 18 years of library experience and 23 years of service in the U.S. Army -- is a chance for a "fresh start," county administrator Gary Kubic said Tuesday.
"Basically, I'm stabilizing every thing," McBride said. "I've spent a few sleepless nights because I'm trying to understand. ... It weights on your mind. You don't want to make a misstep coming right in."
So for now, library hours will remain unchanged through at least Aug. 15, trustees said. Then the board will re-examine its budget, its funding constraints and decide whether to continue hours as they are now, McBride said.