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More than 3.9 million people visit Jacksonville's 21 public libraries each year, including the Main Library Downtown.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jul. 9, 201412:00 PM EST

Libraries seek $3 million budget increase from city

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

After several consecutive years of budget reductions, the Jacksonville Public Library has submitted to the mayor’s office a request for more than $3 million in the 2014-15 budget compared to last year’s budget.

The library board of trustees approved in February a plan to increase funding in 2014-15 by $3 million above the $18 million figure requested last year for the 21 libraries.

The 2013-14 budget approved by City Council last year was almost $34 million, including the trustees’ request plus funds for staff benefits, utilities, information technology support and building maintenance and repair.

The increase sought for next year is 9 percent of the total budget.

Mayor Alvin Brown is scheduled to present his budget to City Council at 9 a.m. Monday. That’s when the trustees will find out if their request is included in the city’s next annual spending plan.

In order to reduce expenses, library hours were reduced by 22 percent in 2013. The board has proposed restoring 10 hours of operation at the Main Library and 20 hours to the regional libraries, including Monday and evening hours.

The proposed increase in hours would require about $1.8 million in additional funding.

In addition to restoring the hours, the board’s proposal also includes adding 29 full-time staff.

Brenda Simmons-Hutchins, chair of the trustees, said the proposed budget with the increase in funding was the result of much discussion and much debate.

“We have been forced to reduce library hours and last year we lost 30 full-time positions. That negatively impacts services,” she said.

The 2013-14 library budget was trimmed by 2.1 percent – $709,201 – compared to the 2012-13 appropriation.

The No.1 priority on the trustees’ wish list is $1.8 million to restore library hours at the Main branch Downtown and at the Pablo Creek, Southwest, Webb Wesconnett and Webb regional libraries.

If the funds are approved, the Main Library would be open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, an increase of six hours per week compared to the current schedule.

The regional library hours would expand to 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

“That would put the hours at the regional libraries back to where they were before we made the changes,” said Barbara Gubbin, director of Jacksonville Public Libraries. “Those are our four busiest libraries.”

Gubbin said any further budget cuts would lead to having to entirely close some branches if library hours have to again be curtailed.

“We should not offer less than 40 hours of service at any library,” she said.

By adding hours, it is estimated that 1 million more books, DVDs, CDs and electronic materials would be borrowed during the year. Computer usage also would increase by 125,000 sessions, including 37,000 sessions used by people seeking employment.

Since 2005, the library’s budget for materials, including traditional books and electronic media, has been reduced by 45 percent while circulation has increased in the past three years by 364 percent. The board has proposed restoring $500,000 to the budget for materials.

“We’re buying everything now in two formats – tangible and electronic – but yet the budget has been cut nearly in half in 10 years,” she said.

The board proposed the budget increase based on the improving economy and the supposition there might be more revenue in the upcoming year from increased ad valorem taxes based on the recovery of Duval County property values. In the worst case, the trustees hope the library will receive at least the same funding for 2014-15 as it did in 2013-14.

“With the turnaround in the economy, as slow as it is, maybe there won’t be cuts this year,” said Simmons-Hutchins. “We are trying to build back what we had before while building into the future. This plan looks at today and it looks at tomorrow.”

Other budget enhancements proposed by the trustees are adding four children’s librarian positions at nine branch libraries lost in 2012-13; adding a full-time staff position at the Conference Center at the Main Library; outsourcing technology support; closing the Maxville branch library; installing a 24-hour automated materials vending machine in Oceanway; and hiring a full-time position to train library staff in customer service and management.

An additional source of funding for Jacksonville’s public libraries comes from a State Aid to Libraries Grant. Last year, JPL received $1,071,161 designated for equipment, furniture, books and materials.

The Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library, a nonprofit organization of volunteers that was founded in 1956, will contribute $100,000 to the library this calendar year, said Harry Reagan, Friends past president.

The contribution comes from the sale of library books that have been taken out of circulation. The books are warehoused and sold by the organization at the University Park branch library.

“We’re proud of what we contribute, but we don’t kid ourselves about being able to make up tax money when it’s cut,” Reagan said.

David DeCamp, mayor’s office spokesman, said Tuesday the budget is still under review. According to a draft budget, the city’s total allocation for public libraries is about $2 million lower than last year’s based on lower IT costs.

He said the administration will be “making decisions on enhancements,” but no changes in library staff or services are anticipated.

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