LAWRENCEVILLE -- Even with a tax increase possible, residents Monday asked for the preservation of funding to the local library system, during a hearing on the county government's 2013 budget.
"It's just not about the numbers always. It's about the big picture," retired librarian Sue Calvert said.
While Calvert's comments were directed toward an argument that the Gwinnett County Public Library could reduce its materials budget by $1 million and still be in line with neighboring counties, her words also echo the arguments of about a dozen residents, who say the library system must be preserved for the quality of life of the community.
Roy Goodwin, a former city councilman in Watertown, New York, who now lives in Suwanee said a library is a reflection of the community you in which you live.
"Education is so important," Goodwin, 88, said. "Our children don't read enough."
Library board Chairman Phillip Saxton said the 33 percent cut to materials -- in a system that has reduced its budget by 20 percent in the past few years, including reductions in its hours -- would take the system back to a 2001 funding level, when the system operated 10 branches, instead of the current 15.
"We believe our library system provides a foundation for all citizens," he said. "We think (the cut) has irrevocable long-term consequences for the community."
Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash has proposed a total $1.3 billion budget for 2013, which is an 8 percent reduction from 2012. With a 25 percent dip in the capital spending plan, the operating budget would increase 1.1 percent.
Officials were able to tighten the budget to make up for an expected drop in the tax digest and minimal increases needed for state mandated changes, but the division of county expenses into service districts -- required by a court settlement with cities -- means people who live in unincorporated portions of the county will see an increase in tax bills, if the proposal stands.
"We are struggling with how we support those services that had been supported by the entire county but won't be anymore," Nash said, speaking mostly of police services, where residents of nine cities with their own police forces will no longer pay county taxes for the department. "There are a lot of things that are very needed for the government, but there simply isn't the money for all of those."
Norwood Davis, a Lawrenceville resident, said he understood the reduction to the library since information is more accessible during the digital age.
"It is my opinion the budget is an appropriate and balanced approach," he said, adding that he appreciates the effort to make the process transparent to the public.