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Library officials plead for budget restoration

LAWRENCEVILLE — After years of cuts, library officials asked the county government for $1 million more in funding in an attempt to keep from dipping into its reserves.

“I think it’s the responsible thing to do to bring it up now before it becomes a crisis,” said Acting Library Director Liz Forster. “We’ve done what we know to do. We’re providing as many service hours as we know how to within the money we have.”

The plea came Monday to a group of residents who, along with Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, are considering the 2014 county spending plan.

A year ago, that group recommended a $1 million cut to the system’s county subsidy, saying that its spending on materials was out of line with other metro Atlanta library jurisdictions, especially at a time when shrinking tax revenues has left the government scrambling to provide services.

While Forster said the money, which would restore that cut to bring the county’s subsidy to $16 million, would allow the agency to continue its service at its current levels, officials hope to be able to add hours.

“The flexibility that we previously had was gone,” said Dick Goodman, the Suwanee councilman who heads the library board of trustees. “There’s a hope to increase hours even more, but we can’t do that with the current budget.”

After the Great Recession caused property values and thus tax revenues to decline, the system has suffered a total of $3.8 million in cuts over the past four years.

Earlier this year, officials were able to rearrange staffing models to increase open hours to 50 at each of the system’s 15 branches. But that is well below the 71 hours a week the branches were open before the economic toll hit.

With a search on to replace the executive director, who was fired without cause this summer, Forster and Goodman said the library system is endeavoring to adapt to new technologies, including offering more digital options.

“It’s been a great learning opportunity,” Forster said of surviving the library’s cuts in recent years. “We know what our customers want (now).”