LAWRENCEVILLE -- The question wasn't popular. It put a lot of people on the defensive.
But with a sluggish economy leaving residents clamoring for a tax break and commissioners trying all they can to preserve public safety, library officials struggled Wednesday to figure out what they could do if they take another $1 million-plus hit to their subsidy.
"If (commissioners) do another 15 percent (drop), this won't be the same library. You won't even recognize it," Gwinnett County Public Library Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said to a gathering of library board members in a budget workshop.
After years of a hiring freeze and belt-tightening, Stanbery-Kellam said services could soon become sub-par with another major cut.
While Chairman Philip Saxton tried to prep board members to solicit donations from corporations and the community, much of the talk centered on how to find more ways to trim expenses.
"We've tried to preserve the things that make us a very good library system," despite a reduced staff, Stanbery-Kellam said. "We've figured out how to do it on a shoestring budget. If we took all of those away, we still wouldn't have the resources to open more hours."
For Dick Goodman, a newly appointed library board member who two years ago was part of an Engage Gwinnett study group that recommended slashing community and library services to preserve public safety, that could mean changing expectations.
"I keep hearing about reducing hours and I would like to hear other options," Goodman said, referring to the possibility of a further reduction from the 43 hours branches are open each week, down from 71 hours several years ago. Goodman, who also serves on the Suwanee City Council, asked if there could be some hours where the library is open to people picking up books and using computers but maybe reference librarians aren't available.
"What may have been unheard of (before), we need to hear," he said, counting off possibilities of staggering hours at branches and reducing services. "That may make a difference, stretch out a buck. ... People understand there are more demands. Their property tax bill is reduced; then maybe they shouldn't be expecting those platinum services."
Saxton said board officials had expected a 10 percent reduction to its stipend this year but ended up with a 15 percent hit. For now, the board will use part of its fund balance (rainy day fund), but Saxton is starting an endowment to help with future expenses.
During the discussion, many gave ideas about how to boost donations, which are now being accepted on the system's website, www.gwinnettpl.org.
"The problem with donations is you have to ask," Saxton said. "It needs to be much more proactive."
The board reviewed changes to fees and fines two years ago that have increased some revenues, but many, Stanbery-Kellam said, are to the point where if they are reduced more people would likely avoid using the library.