Library may cut its kids’ programs

Published 8:07 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

COURTLAND—Children’s programs at the Walter Cecil Rawls Library in Courtland could be cut if Southampton County adheres to its proposed operating budget for fiscal 2010.

Eleven people addressed the Board of Supervisors during Monday night’s public hearing on the county’s proposed $56,885,219 budget. Seven of those speakers touched on the county’s decision to make a 5 percent cut in funding to the Blackwater Regional Library system, which operates the Rawls Library in Courtland.

“The Board of Supervisors were very open to hearing what the citizens had to say,” said Amy Lehman, senior library assistant at the Rawls Library. “We felt like they were definitely taking into consideration the needs and wants of the people in the community.”

Under the current version of the proposed operating budget, Southampton County will give the library $253,433, down from the $266,772 it received this year. The library had asked for $285,355, a 6.97 percent increase.

No additional public hearings will be scheduled on the proposed operating budget.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday for its regularly scheduled meeting and at that time the supervisors may decide to make amendments to the budget and could ultimately approve it.

“Not a one of us here envies them and their position,” Lehman said. “We know that with times as tough as they are, they’re doing the best that they can with what they have. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that they will somehow find a way.”

Stanya Yonker, the finance and operations director for Blackwater Regional, said population and circulation are two metrics the library system uses to determine funding requests.

The library system is dependent on funding from five localities — Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties and the city of Franklin — and operates a bookmobile and branches in Carrollton, Claremont, Franklin, Smithfield, Surry, Wakefield, Waverly and Windsor.

“Southampton County’s circulation has increased considerably in the last two years, therefore their percentage of the entire operating budget has gone up,” Yonker said. “There are no salary increases in (the library system’s) budget. We do have a large retirement expense that we have to pay and some increased costs in our health insurance. That is basically the increase overall: retirement and health insurance.”

Yonker said 85 percent of the library system’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits and the remaining 15 percent covers supplies.

“When you cut, the only place to cut is somebody’s salary,” Yonker said. “In order to make up this cut that Southampton is proposing, we’re going to have to close hours for this library. And closing hours means you have to let some people go.”

Two part-time library assistants and one part-time youth programmer would be cut, Yonker said.

Under the terms of the contract between Southampton and Blackwater Regional, the library system’s Board of Trustees can proportionally reduce or freeze service levels at the Rawls Library in accordance with any cuts in funding.

“The board meets (today) and we will be discussing this proposed cut,” Yonker said. “They ultimately will make the decision as to what is cut. But in order to make up this large amount of money, there isn’t any other way to do it.”

Yonker said that to her knowledge, three of the other Blackwater Regional localities — Isle of Wight and Surry counties and the city of Franklin — submitted the library system’s requested amount into their respective budgets. The fourth, Sussex County, proposed giving the libraries level funding instead of agreeing to a $2,700 increase.

“They will lose some service for that $2,700,” Yonker said. “That will also be discussed tomorrow (by the Board of Trustees). One of the branches in Sussex County will either close on a Saturday or on an evening.”

Lehman’s 8-year-old daughter, Emily, was one of the speakers at Monday’s public hearing.

“She requested that the government give the library more money,” Lehman said. “She said that if the hours were cut short the 4-H Club might not be able to meet there. And she said that if the library were not open to people to use computers, they would not be able to look for jobs. And if they don’t have jobs, then they will not have money to buy food and they might lose their houses.”