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Library funds in jeopardy
County may cut '09 budget

LAWRENCEVILLE - When Nancy Stanbery-Kellam read in the newspaper that Gwinnett's library budget was among a laundry list of services that could be cut in 2009, the system's director blasted off an e-mail to her employees.

She said she didn't know what the future would bring but encouraged the librarians and staffers to keep up their dedication in a trying time.

"I know you were getting questions from an anxious public," Stanbery-Kellam wrote in the e-mail. "Let's focus on what we know. We have enjoyed increased use over time with a nice surge in the past couple of years, but this economic downturn has resulted in even greater usage, which is historically true in public libraries."

Stanbery-Kellam said she and her staff are now working to see what could be trimmed from the system's budget, as officials consider an $801,700 cut to the proposed 2009 budget.

The majority of the library system's requested increase for 2009 was based on the expected opening of the Hamilton Mill library branch early in 2010. Stanbery-Kellam said it is unknown how a cut would impact the opening, although she noted that the construction is fully funded.

Even if the cut is approved, the library would still get more than the $18,692,433 line item in the 2008 budget - which was restored after a last-minute cut in January put the county's state funding in jeopardy.

According to the state mandate, the library system has to get at least the same amount of local funding as the year prior to qualify for state funds, which means the $800,000 proposed cut in 2009 would not put the system in the same trouble this year. But Stanbery-Kellam is also concerned about the money coming from the state, where revenue shortfalls have officials considering cutting services by 10 percent.

"We know that the county leaders have to make some tough decisions," the library's leader said about the Service Value Responsibility study, which included 152 initiatives uncovering $70 million in potential savings.

But she defended the library, saying its role is even more important in a tough economy.

"The wonderful services and amenities that have been developed over the years are what make the quality of life so great in Gwinnett," she said. "Library use is higher than ever and our leaders know this; I am confident they will do their best to help us continue to provide excellence in library service to our community as this need continues to rise. Not only are people using libraries to find jobs, sharpen job skills and fine tune resumes, they are also coming to family and children's programs in greater numbers."