Budget troubles threatening the Blount County Public Library have gone under the microscope as city officials and library board members gathered last week to discuss funding options.
The Library Board of Trustees met Thursday to discuss potential options if they do not receive adequate funding for the 2020 fiscal year. The library is facing a consultant’s recommendation of more than $370,000 annually in raises to employee salaries and benefits.
The increase was introduced by a Blount County compensation study published in March and is more than $100,000 less than the combined Maryville, Alcoa and county budgets have proposed providing.
Library board Chairwoman Susan Schneibel of Maryville provided The Daily Times with an outline of one of three options the board has discussed to mitigate the issues a lack of funding might create.
“The director and her administrative staff thought this option would be the least disruptive to service, but we are not sure if this solution will prove feasible,” Schneibel emailed.
That option entails the library dismissing one full-time maintenance position, seven part-time patron services positions and two part-time adult services positions.
Total amounts taken from these salaries would reach $104,789.82, the proposal shows.
Library Director K.C. Williams and Schneibel told Maryville city officials and The Daily Times that staffing cuts inevitably would lead to a reduction in library operating hours, but Schneibel emailed that after “three weeks of operating with this level of staff reduction, we should know if we must cut back on operating hours as well.”
Non-staff related cuts in the proposal included a 53% decrease in materials budget and a reduction of available hot spots and potentially phone lines and email accounts.
The library also would defer any technology upgrades and halt outreach and organizational memberships for staff, the option states.
Finally, the proposal suggests cutting three or more online database subscriptions, limiting staff travel and training, reducing operational building improvements by as much 87.5% and reducing capital funds that help with building renovation by 91%.
Amounts taken from operations would add up to $218,815.18, with amounts taken from capital totaling $35,250.00, the outline states.
All told, this option would gain the library $358,855 — $13,821 less than a combined total of required benefits and salary raises Williams showed The Daily Times in an earlier interview.
‘In the dark’
Though the county-initiated salary boost created the library’s current deficit, the three governments that share budget responsibilities traditionally have been able to foot the bill.
Contributions from Alcoa, Maryville and the county go towards a Maintenance of Effort agreement with the state of Tennessee, allowing the state to fund $2.5 million in library programs, Williams said.
She added that a failure to meet budgetary or hour of operation requirements would be a breach of the MOE contract and could prompt the state to restrict and even take away library resources.
Citizens and board members concerned about the library’s future addressed the Blount County Commission during the public input portion of a meeting late Thursday.
“This is your county library,” Dick Burgess, president of the Blount County Friends of the Library, told commissioners. “It’s our hundredth year. Is this the year you want to destroy it?”
Said library board member Dr. Cathy Hammon: “I’m encouraged that I think you all are back at the table talking some more about this. Thank you for doing that. Thank you for not giving up,”
But she continued, “I’m also disturbed, and I hope I’m wrong about this, but it’s our understanding that the library is the only department that has not been given money to cover these raises. I hope that’s not true.”
County Commissioner Dodd Crowe followed public comments by saying the issue was “cloudy” and wanted to take a moment to get more clarity for the public’s sake. He addressed Blount County Budget Director Randy Vineyard during the meeting by asking, “What happened to the library?”
After a long pause, Vineyard responded by explaining Maryville officials had contacted his office and indicated they were interested in trying to move closer to a 1968 contract wherein the county agreed to pay 50% of the library’s budget, Maryville 30% and Alcoa 20%.
Maryville has been paying around 40% for an unknown length of time, though no new library contract has been signed in half a century.
“Would it be safe to say,” Commissioner Steve Mikels asked Vineyard, “that this is more of an issue to take to take up with Maryville city and Alcoa city than it is with County Commission?”
“No,” Vineyard replied. “The budget is on the county’s books and there was a comment made earlier ... about working with them to address the issue that seems to have gotten ahead of the parade.”
He added a meeting would take place this week.
“I’m just as in the dark as I was,” Mikels responded.
Weighing the numbers
Though Blount County has yet to solidify its budget, it has indicated it might raise its MOE contribution nearly $90,000. Combined with other proposed MOE budget hikes from Alcoa — which on Friday proposed raising its library funding by 13.7% to a total of $265,320 — and Maryville, expenses are closer to being covered.
Alcoa’s budget overview presentation noted Friday its raise was “subject to intergovernmental approval.”
But conversations about percentages are still muddying the water.
Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson — who indicated he had spoken by phone about the issue with county and Maryville officials this week — said in an interview he had reviewed the 1968 contract and felt the agreement only lasted for two years after it was signed, and had expired 49 years ago.
Though some estimates showed the total population of library card holders from Blount County, Maryville and Alcoa as roughly holding to the 50%, 30%, 20% model, Maryville officials told The Daily Times their numbers show Alcoa nearer to 6%.
Williams also provided The Daily Times with a library data report showing active card holder numbers from each funding body at 46,791 from Blount County, 25,628 from Maryville, and 5,387 from Alcoa.
Williams stipulated these numbers often are a “moving target” since card’s renew and expire often, but vouched for their representation of the library’s current patronage.
As budgets from each governing body go through consideration and revision, officials have expressed plans to meet and discuss the matter in depth.
Meanwhile, library officials and supporters continue to appear at public meetings after a barrage of communication from the library encourages community action.
”Every elected official has gotten 900, 1,100, even 1,200 emails,” Johnson said. “They definitely got their attention.”