Advocates of Beaufort County's libraries said Monday that budget cuts are frustrating residents and limiting public access to information.
A hiring freeze and attrition have reduced library staff by about 30 percent over the past several years. Earlier this month, three libraries cut a total of 66 hours from their weekly operating schedules.
The changes haven't gone unnoticed, Lynne Miller, president of the Hilton Head Friends of the Library, told County Council's Finance Committee.
"We have parking problems; we have all kinds of people wanting questions answered; we don't have enough staff to answer all the questions," Miller said. "People are very frustrated and disgusted with what's going on."
But with a lean economy and tax revenue projected to drop lower, county administrator Gary Kubic said technology -- specifically, countywide Wi-Fi Internet access -- could be a creative way to meet residents' information needs in the future.
"If we had access via Wi-Fi anywhere in the county, then would we require the same level of service given by a traditional library, versus having the student get an iPad and then having total connectivity at home to find any book or any research that they can?" Kubic asked.
Kubic said the new St. Helena Library will cost about $700,000 annually when it opens next year, and budget cuts are part of his attempt to absorb that cost without a tax increase.
The Finance Committee did not take action on the library advocates' concerns.
LT. DAN WEEKEND
In other action, the committee voted unanimously to give $10,000 of accommodations-tax money to the Lt. Dan Weekend, an event that brings severely wounded veterans to the Lowcountry.
Steve Danyluk, founder of the Independence Fund, which sponsors the event, said it started as a fundraiser, but veterans found it therapeutic to interact with citizens and each other.
"It's like a hidden treatment that's out there that nobody's really analyzed or documented," he said. "What started out as a means to raise money to buy wheelchairs now has kind of become the focus."
This year's event will be highlighted by a concert in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort by Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band.
Danyluk said fire marshals have capped this year's attendance at 5,000 people, and last year had a similar turnout.
Councilman Brian Flewelling said he was amazed at the number of out-of-state license plates he saw during last year's event, which was held in conjunction with the Beaufort Shrimp Festival.
"It brought a lot of people to town," Flewelling said. "I can't think of a better use of accommodations tax, actually."
Several council members said the city of Beaufort and chambers of commerce, which also will benefit from visitors, should help shoulder part of the cost.
Danyluk said he also intends to request money from the Beaufort City Council, in addition to the police support and fences it is contributing.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.