Eubanks’s latest library woes come on the heels of the city of Rossville’s budget talks, which have all but approved a $12,000 cut to the Rossville library next year, she said.
“What that would leave the Rossville library with is only enough money to operate in a fiscal year for about 20 hours open per week,” Eubanks said. “It would bring our current full-time staff down to about 28 hours a week. And we feel sure that they will not be able to support themselves on that. And we’re really concerned because of their experience and what that would mean to that community if we lost that experience, because what we would be re-hiring is something very far different for 28 hours.”
For the first time, the Cherokee Regional Library System board seriously considered shutting down one of its libraries altogether.
“The board did meet on Monday,” said Eubanks, “The board considered closing the (Rossville) library completely because at some point it’s not worth ineffective service. And because our other Walker County libraries are also hurting and suffering, maybe Walker County can’t afford three libraries...that was considered, to close that one up and put the resources that we have back into those other two libraries.”
Eubanks said the board just wasn’t comfortable making such a drastic decision yet, and felt that it owed it to the community to keep the library open as long as possible. “The price tag for that community was just too big,” she said. “There’s a lot of walk-in patrons, students who go to school in that area and it just would be very difficult to do and we would not do that lightly.
“I’d like to think that as big as Walker County is, geographically, that there is a need for three libraries in Walker County,” she said.
“What the board ended up voting on and deciding to do is just to continue to keep the library open for 30 hours until the money runs out, which means it could possibly come to a temporary closing to get us through the end of the fiscal year.”
Eubanks predicts that, unless financial situations change for the better, the Rossville library may have to go into hibernation for up to a few months next spring.
“We have three different fiscal years from nine different funding agencies,” said Eubanks. “What we’re hoping for though is that the money will be obtained from different sources. We’re doing a lot of this on faith; it’s no way to operate a library.
“All of the funding agencies say that we’re important, but the numbers aren’t backing that up.”
Already Eubanks has had to cut three permanent staff members and reduce hours and benefits for her remaining librarians. All three Walker County libraries are now open only 30 hours a week instead of the ideal Monday through Saturday.
“People are so angry. When we’re closed on Mondays and Wednesdays, when I come in or when I leave to go to lunch, people are trying to get in the door and they are so angry at the library staff like we’ve done something wrong,” she said.
“We’re not even open as many hours as the county landfill.”
Eubanks traces a portion of the problems to the flat-lining level of financial support the three libraries receive from the county each year.
“The three cities together give $216,000 for the support of the libraries, and the county’s only giving $154,000,” said Eubanks. “And there are more county residents than there are city residents.”
For comparison’s sake, Eubanks noted that in Catoosa County, the single library receives $500,000 per year from the county coffers.
“We’re doing amazing things with no money, but there is an end to that ability,” she said. “We haven’t had an increase from the commissioner since 2009.”
Eubanks hopes that commissioner Heiskell, if re-elected in November, will evaluate the usage of the county’s libraries against their level of support and be persuaded to make cutbacks in other areas in order to give the libraries the funds they need.
“I would just like to see her really evaluate each of the other departments that she’s responsible for to make sure that they’ve done the trimming that we’ve done,” said Eubanks. “I know that many of her departments are constitutionally mandated, but are they constitutionally mandated at 40 hours a week? Maybe our community would rather have the library an extra day of the week and do without the accessor’s office one day a week. Even the DMV is not open four or five days a week. People will adjust their schedules around that. Right now, there are things that we offer that no other office does and we just need to be recognized.”
And though funding for the libraries seems to be decreasing with each passing season, usage statistics, on the other hand, are skyrocketing.
As of June 30, nearly half the county’s population, 33,148 to be exact, were library card holders in Walker County. In the library system’s most recent fiscal year, a total of 140,000 patrons walked through the doors of the three libraries – equal to roughly every Walker County citizen counted twice.
Eubanks knows that as more and more people fall on economic hard times, the citizens’ need to use computers at a public library to search for jobs, to complete resumes or homework, or simply to remain in touch with the rest of the world, will continue to grow.
“There are a lot of users that are not getting the services that they are in need of,” she said.
Eubanks reminded Heiskell of her request to have the people of Walker County vote as to whether they would like a small line-item – perhaps $10 – added to their yearly property tax note solely to help pay for library operation. The next available date for a binding referendum is November 2014, and Eubanks is hoping not to wait that long.
“We could do an exit poll in the November election,” said Heiskell. “I would like to see that.”
Should an exit poll take place and the vote be in favor of a line-item on the property tax digest, Heiskell would be able to implement the change much sooner, as a referendum is not necessary to do so.
“I need to hear from all of them, to see how many people really, really believe that this is important enough to do at this time,” said Heiskell.