Officials say cut in library funding will be devastating

By Debbie Hall

The proposed 10 percent cut to the Patrick County Library will have a devastating impact, and is likely to result in a loss of state and federal funds, according to Rick Ward, director of the Blue Ridge Regional Library system.

The county proposed providing decreased local funds to outside agencies as one way to address a $3.1 million shortfall in the more than $55 million budget for fiscal 2020.

But, in the March 19 letter to the county, Ward said the library provides “an honest budget, with nothing padded. There is no fat to cut from the Patrick County Library budget,” he said. In fact, when the estimated insurance costs did not increase over the previous two years, the library passed those savings on to the county, he added.

In the upcoming fiscal year, Ward said the library requested additional funds to cover an estimated 5 percent increase in health insurance and a 3 percent cost of living pay increase to library staff. “Our salary pay scale is very low,” he said.

The library in the past experienced a 2.5 percent cut under a previous director, which “forced the reduction of staff and operating hours,” Ward said. “We are still trying to recover from that and are still looking for ways to fully restore our lost funding.”

The 10 percent cut proposed by the county “would be devastating,” Ward said. With a cut of that magnitude, the library will be forced to either eliminate a full-time position or lose all of its part-time staff. “It would definitely reduce hours at the library, perhaps drastically.”

A reduction in hours will affect the services provided by the library, Ward said of access to electronic resources. He added that resident’s ability to apply for jobs, work on resumes, fill out student aid forms, participate in online classes, take tests, and FAX documents also would be limited. “A budget cut of this size would also cause us to reduce or lose valuable programming,” and impact the library’s ability to buy new materials for patrons, Ward said.

“This budget cut would also affect the bookmobile service. With the new bookmobile soon to arrive, we would hate to start its tenure with a reduction in hours and areas covered,” he said, and explained that local funds are among those tapped to cover the costs of operating the bookmobile. Additionally, fuel prices are on the rise and likely will continue to increase.

According to state aid requirements, local operating expenses are not to fall below the amount of the previous year. If those expenses do fall, and providing the budgets of all local government departments are reduced, the library’s state grant-in-aid will be reduced.

If the library’s budget is reduced and other agencies’ budgets are not, then the library will not receive state grant-in-aid and will be ineligible to do so until local expenses again reach or exceed the local funding at the time of the previous grant. Additionally, if local funds are reduced from the previous year, the library will be ineligible for federal funds.

“We want to acknowledge that we are both stronger organizations when we work together,” Ward said, and noted the current library building is the result of a massive fundraising effort that saved the county more than $500,000.

“We have contributed to repair costs when we can” and a recent fundraising campaign saved the county $150,000 towards the purchase of a new bookmobile, he said.

“The Patrick County Library is a wonderful resource for the county,” Ward said, and cautioned “the vitality of the library and bookmobile is in jeopardy with a cut of this magnitude.”


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