From fiscal year 2010 to 2015, Beaufort County Council reduced the library budget by 22 percent, while the number of branches increased by 33 percent.
Because of staffing freezes, libraries had to return roughly an additional 8 percent ($300,000) per year to the General Fund. More than $1 million more was pulled from the libraries this way. Those funds went to the county reserve and could be used elsewhere. This was reported to council in 2013, but council did nothing.
Budget cuts forced hours to be cut from 60 hours per week (66 at Bluffton) to 40. They are back to 50. Now that is threatened again.
State data for eight similar counties show we're at the bottom in key library indicators, despite being the wealthiest.
The buck stops with council members Paul Sommerville, Stu Rodman, Jerry Stewart and Bill McBride, and Administrator Gary Kubic. They were made aware of these problems in 2013 but did no investigation or search for cures.
Most of council looked the other way while the system was stripped and sank to a low state ranking. Citizens must step in. An independent, quantitative oversight group needs to study the numbers, make recommendations, monitor their implementation and ring alarm bells when needed. Library trustees, its director and friends' groups should be a part of this.
We should not aim to have the worst system in the state.
Steven M. Baer
Hilton Head Island
Editor's note: The writer is a former County Council member.