• 64°

Library forced to layoff staff, cut hours

IRONTON — Huge budget cuts resulting from shrinking revenue has forced the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library system to layoff 10 workers and trim operating hours at its five branches by nearly 15 percent.

Friday’s announcement to cut personnel and hours was widely expected after officials confirmed late last month that the countywide library system was anticipated to be saddled with a budget deficit in excess of $300,000 by the end of 2009.

The deficit is a result of dwindling revenue allocated by the Ohio Department of Taxation through the Public Library Fund which finances library systems through state income and sales taxes.

Briggs Director Joe Jenkins said layoff notices were delivered Thursday and Friday to the 10 part-time staff employees affected. The change in hours will take effect June 15.

None of the five branches will be closed.

In addition to the 10 layoffs which start on June 18 and continue throughout the summer months, all additional full- and part-time employees will have their time reduced by eight hours each pay period.

Following the restructuring, the system will be left with 38 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees. Those laid off will have recall rights for two years should additional or improved funding become available.

Jenkins said this week’s decision was the toughest he has had to make since becoming director of the system in November 2001.

“We know that patrons will be inconvenienced by these changes, and we apologize. And we greatly regret having to lay off any staff members, as they do a tremendous job and will be missed,” Jenkins said.

“I have been overwhelmed by the positive attitudes our staff has maintained during this process, but they also understand that the budget has to be balanced at the end of the year.”

Like all public entities, state law mandates libraries complete their fiscal year with the minimum of a balanced budget.

Jenkins and the library’s Board of Trustees had planned and budgeted for a 4- to 5-percent decrease in funding from 2008, but less than five months into 2009 the library system was facing a 15 to 20 percent decrease in available monies due to higher state unemployment and drops in spending.

The system cut spending by $160,000 heading into its 2009 fiscal year based on projections delivered by the Ohio Department of Taxation.

However, new revenue estimates from Columbus forced Briggs to slash an additional $185,000 based on the condition of Ohio’s economy heading into the second half of the year.

All of Ohio’s libraries are funded through the Public Library Fund with 75 percent of those having state funding as their main source of revenue.

More than 98 percent of the revenue the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library system brings in is through state funding with the remaining balance coming in from late fees, donors and gifts. No local or county tax levies support the library system.

Even before yesterday’s decision, the library system had already made steps to help reduce the budget including the suspension or cutting of materials, supplies and library programming.

Starting June 15, Jenkins said library hours will be reduced from the current 269 hours per week to 222 hours. Some noticeable changes include opening one hour later at 10 a.m. with the main library now closing at 8 p.m. Branches will also close at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The new hours for each branch building will be posted at each building and on the library’s Web site at www.briggslibrary.org.

“To the many patrons we serve every day, the library remains a very valuable community resource,” Jenkins said. “We have a dedicated staff made up of great people who remain committed to serving our patrons and who will continue to do their best.”

Jenkins said the board has not discussed placing an operational levy on an upcoming election ballot.

He said the intent is for the library to operate within the funds made available through the state.

Jenkins said it was his opinion that the board would not even consider a levy until funding dropped to the point that branch closures would be imminent, and even then, they would choose to do so only because the board believes taxpayers should have their say on the matter.