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Library officials pass budget, hold breath

LAWRENCEVILLE - Library officials passed a budget Monday, with hopes that county commissioners don't slash a promised subsidy.

The $24 million in expected expenditures is slightly higher than the current budget year, which ends at the end of the month, because the system is expected to open its 15th branch in the Hamilton Mill community in January.

Jane Walters, the division director for the business services division of the Gwinnett County Public Library, said about $440,000 was trimmed from the 2009 expenditures.

But Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said if county commissioners pare down an $18 million subsidy as part of a recently launched effort to cut expenses instead of raising taxes, the library's state grants will be in jeopardy.

"These figures are based on assumptions that could easily be changed," Stanbery-Kellam said of the budget.

She said staffers have run numbers to determine the impact of furloughs or the cutting of hours at library branches, but she is waiting for word from the county staff as to how deep the cuts could be.

"We want to be ready," she said. "We want to analyze all the possibilities to see what is best for the staff and the community."

While the nation's recession has caused belt-tightening by officials, Stanbery-Kellam said the system is seeing record numbers in terms of usage.

Compared to the first six months of last year, circulation is up 5.68 percent. The door count is up 3.74 percent, and program attendance has sky-rocketed up 28 percent. While comparison figures weren't available, Stanbery-Kellam said 1.1 million computers users have logged on, and the summer reading program, which kicked off last week, has already eclipsed the total for the entire summer of 2008.

Library board members Monday approved a request for $20,352,952 from the county in 2010 (the county's budget operates under a calendar year for its finances), growing mostly because of the new branch.

"(People) depend on their library for the essential materials," including books on resumes and careers, said Phyllis Oxendine, who chairs the board. "Right now, we are waiting on the commissioners."