Library hours still a major topic

May. 16, 2013 @ 12:08 PM

When Town Manager Roger Stancil released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14, it included $100,000 to hire additional staff so the town can restore some of the library’s operating hours that were cut earlier this year as a cost-saving measure.
Stancil told reporters meeting with him before Monday’s council business meeting that the money for additional library hours would buy an additional four hours a week, increasing operating hours from 54 hours to 58 hours a week.
Still, the additional hours are 10 short of the 68 hours a week the library operated before the completion of the recent expansion, which more than doubled the size of the library, making it more expensive to operate.
“We’re not at the level we were previously,” Stancil said. “We’d like to see how that works and report back to the council in January about how that’s going.”
Stancil said new Library Director Susan Brown, who will assume her duties May 20, will decide how to use the additional hours.
“Our new library director would like to get here and determine where the hours are needed and what staffing changes might be made and then report back in January,” Stancil said.
The reduced library hours have been a topic of much debate, with patrons complaining that the new limited operating hours make it tough for some residents to fully use the library.
In recent weeks, patrons have flooded the council’s inbox with messages asking members to restore the library’s original operating hours.
Stancil has been reluctant to authorize the hiring of new positions until the council has approved funding for them.
But at a council business meeting Monday, Councilman Jim Ward asked if the council would be willing to take a “straw poll” to determine whether members are committed to approving a budget containing funding for additional library positions.
“We’ve heard an awful lot already about the travesty in some people’s mind, and I would share that position, of having this great library and it not being open at critical times during the week,” Ward said. “To let this play out for another half of a year seems unnecessary.”   
Stancil said he has had several conversations with Brown and she is weighing options to extend hours.
“I already know that she is thinking about those options,” Stancil said. “I know it’s the No.1 on her priority list to think about this.”
He said a possible plan might involve using current resources and people to extend hours temporarily, then transition to a permanent plan.
Stancil’s proposed budget calls for a two-cent tax increase, with one cent being earmarked for the town’s general fund and the other for its transit fund.
The budget increase is being driven by an increase in the costs to ship the town’s solid waste to Durham, the increased cost to operate the expanded library, funding annual street-paving projects, resuming funding for retiree health liability and covering the reduction of state funding for transit.