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Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 11, 201705:35 PM EST

Mayor Curry's city budget: Library asks for more money

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Additional funding would pay for materials, expanded hours.
by: Monty Zickuhr Managing Editor

Leaders from the Jacksonville Public Library System hope a Friday morning plea to City Council will increase funding for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Library Interim Director Jennifer Giltrop asked for more money from the Finance Committee, which is reviewing Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed $5.4 billion in city spending.

Giltrop said the system would like an additional $850,000 to increase the materials budget.

The library is budgeted for $32.1 million for next year, a slight increase from 2016-17. That includes $2.4 million for materials, a cut of $486,000.   

Council Auditor Kyle Billy said the reduction was because a one-time $500,000 increase in this year’s budget will not be carried over.

State contributions for materials declined $150,000, Giltrop said.

The materials budget pays for items like books, DVDs and “any kind of content we have to purchase to provide to our customers,” she said.

Since 2005, Giltrop said funding for materials is down 56 percent.

“We’re trying to make up for those losses and the cuts we’ve had over the last decade,” she said. “It’s put a strain on our ability to serve our customers.”

Giltrop said a side effect of the cuts is a growing backlog for book and e-book rentals, up to eight months in some cases.

Giltrop also wants $1.1 million to expand library hours, including a sixth day of operation at nine branches. Most libraries are open 40 to 48 hours a week.

Five regional branches and the main branch Downtown are open more than five days a week, and Giltrop says that has created “inconsistencies” for people trying to access a library.

“Someone who visits a branch at 11 a.m. that doesn’t open until 1 p.m. isn’t going to come back,” she said. “They view it as a closed branch.”

Sixteen branches are closed Sundays and six are closed Mondays.

Giltrop said the branches that are open more than five days a week are staffed using overtime hours, and only on a volunteer basis.

“If we have no volunteers, we assign staff,” she said.

Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown questioned Giltrop and Library Board of Trustees Chair Ronnie King about the system’s ability to secure state and federal grants.

King said the system has secured 16 of 40 grants for which they applied, but “they only fill in the gaps at best.”

Council member Danny Becton suggested the library could be rebranded to raise awareness.

“We need to have a conversation about what a library is today versus what it was in the past,” Becton said. “The library does a lot more than just books.”

Council members Tommy Hazouri and Jim Love, both council liaisons to the library, said the system needed to be a priority since it provides a safe place for underserved kids and adults.

“It’s hard to have a conversation about juvenile and crime prevention without considering the library,” King said.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, a former educator, echoed that and said council “needs to put its money where its mouth is.”

“What I keep hearing is the library is a priority,” Dennis said. “We are the policymakers, and we control the purse strings,” he said.

Vacancies in IT

According to city Chief Information Officer Ken Lathrop, the Information Technology Division has 14 job vacancies.

Latham said that is down from 22 positions a year ago, but the department has struggled to fill the remaining spots.

“Some to retirement, others, mainly younger employees, are simply chasing the dollar,” Latham said. 

With programming and information technology jobs, Latham said the private sector often can offer a higher salary than the city.

“As the technology changes, so does the skill set,” he said. “So, we’re also looking to find employees with different skills.”

He said like most cities, his department uses contractors for some projects. 

The $25 million proposed budget for information technology includes $1.1 million for contracted employees.

The department is budgeted to replace about $1.5 million in desktops, laptops, network equipment and uninterrupted power supply equipment throughout the city next year.

Latham said while the trend is to move data to cloud-based servers, “the cost to refresh our equipment continues to increase in some respects.”

The Finance Committee resumes the budget review at 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall.

 

[email protected]

@DavidCawton

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