Due to budget shortfalls, all Mountain Regional Library System Libraries – Fannin County Public Library in Blue Ridge, Towns County Public Library in Hiawassee, Union County Public Library in Blairsville, and the Mountain Regional Library in Young Harris – will be closed for unpaid staff furlough days December 27-January 5. These days are in addition to their regularly scheduled staff day and holiday closures December 23-26.
Over the past several years, state funding to the Mountain Regional Library System, and all of Georgia’s public libraries, has steadily decreased. The library system has had no state funds for library materials at all for the past 5 years and all four of the state-paid librarians in the system have taken a minimum of 12 unpaid furlough days each year – this year, they are taking 26 unpaid days. That may not sound like much, but 20 working days is one month. State funding for the MRL System has decreased from $413,269 in 2008 to $281,745 in 2013 – a cut of $131,524. During that time, total funding from all local taxing agencies in all three counties has increased by $39,750, but has not kept pace with actual expenses.
The employer cost of employee health insurance alone increased by more than $76,000 since 2008 despite a reduction in the number of staff eligible for coverage from twenty-three to eleven. Employees’ paid premiums have also doubled. Other expenses that have increased dramatically in that five year span include insurance (vehicle, collections, bonding, and worker’s compensation), materials (the cost of a hardcover book has increased from $15 per title to $28 per title), gasoline, postage, paper and toner, and practically every supply or equipment item.
The regional library board and library administration have made every effort to economize, cutting five positions at the regional library, not replacing staff in branches when feasible, converting benefits-eligible full-time positions into part-time non-benefits-eligible positions as these positions became vacant, and having state-paid staff take unpaid furloughs. All discretionary spending for supplies, programs, equipment, and other items has been drastically reduced.
Unfortunately, these cuts simply cannot make up the difference between the cost to operate the libraries at current levels and the available funding. Because many library users are also suffering financially, library staff has tried very hard to take cuts in areas that would not reduce direct services to our library users. In fact many of the cuts have been virtually invisible to our users while library staff members have had their workloads increased, their benefits decreased, and their salaries decreased in the process. The library system is well past the time when additional cuts can be taken without impacting public services and open hours.
After considering all available options, the Mountain Regional Library System Board of Trustees took the painful step at their November meeting of voting to take locally paid staff furloughs. Library staff was consulted on finding the best time to take the unpaid days that would prove least painful to both staff and the public. The week immediately following the Christmas holidays was selected as one of the two unpaid weeks necessary. Many of our library users are occupied with family activities and travel during that time. An additional week of unpaid days will be taken later, probably in spring.