Library branches now closed on Saturdays

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Changes forced by failed April tax levy, resulting in $200,000 per year loss

A consequence of the failed tax levy in April, branches in the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library System have changed hours and taken a day off the open schedule.

All Barry-Lawrence County Library branches will now be closed on Saturdays Hours during the week are: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at Aurora, Cassville, Marionville, Monett and Mt. Vernon; Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m., at Eagle Rock, Miller, Pierce City, Purdy & Shell Knob.

The changes in operating hours took effect Aug. 1 and are a direct result of the failed April tax levy due, in part, to a poorly-worded ballot, said Gina Milburn, director of the Barry-Lawrence Regional Libraries.

The library branches in that system involve 10 communities: Cassville, Aurora, Eagle Rock, Marionville, Miller, Monett, Mt. Vernon, Pierce City, Purdy and Shell Knob.

According to Milburn, the library system had not asked voters for a levy increase in 27 years, and direly needed one. But, the levy didn't pass, forcing the system back 43 years to the last voter-approved amount.

"That's why we were going out for the tax levy," Milburn said. "Everybody's budget needs to increase at some point. We're not bringing in as much money, and just like with your own personal budget, you have to figure out where you can make cuts so you can meet your obligations."

Milburn said the library system had been relying on obtaining signature loans to meet those obligations.

"We last asked voters for a levy increase in 1989, and, due to the Hancock amendment, and a poorly-worded ballot, the library district was forced to rollback to the last voter approved amount in 1973," she said. "So, we went from a decrease of almost 18 cents per $100 valuation to 15 cents; that translates to about $200,000 to $225,000 a year we lost.

"The ballots are always modeled after the state statutes. If it had said 4 cents over whatever the amount was, it would have been fine. If the ballot had been worded correctly, we would not have been forced to roll back."

Milburn said Barry-Lawrence was not the only library system affected by the poor wording.

What the changes mean for residents in the 10 respective communities is that fewer educational, recreational and practical resources, which the libraries provide free of charge, will be available.

"It's a big change," said Cheryl Williams, Cassville Branch supervisor. "It wasn't just hours of operation, they had to cut budgets and capital improvements. I think it's sad for the community. There are a lot who don't have access to the resources we provide any place else.

"People don't realize how important libraries are to a community. Where is there another place you can get copies made on Saturdays? Anymore, people can't even fill out job applications if they don't have computer access. We do more than just check out books. We have copy machines and computers that, now, people can't get access to over the weekends or evenings."

Along with a plethora of educational programs and activities for all ages throughout the year, the library offers free entertainment including DVD rentals, magazines, audio books, eBooks, streaming video and a genealogy room.

Williams said Barry County residents are already feeling the impact of the changes.

"We've had some loyal Saturday patrons who are going to Pea Ridge and Rogers, Ark., to get library cards now." Williams said. "We have a lot of who come from Seligman and Washburn.

"Plus, we close at 5:30 p.m. now, making it difficult for people to get here after work. We previously closed at 6 p.m., which, 30 minutes doesn't sound like much, but it makes a difference."

In response to the changes, the library is also restructuring its programs.

"Because of this cut, we will have more staff here at a time, so we can do more things during the day time, which frees us up to leave the library. She said. "So, we're going to try and do more outreach, such as going to daycares. We're using this month to figure things out. Everything is still in the planning stage."

The Eagle Rock, Shell Knob, Miller, Pierce City and Purdy branches will only be open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"We already had Miller and Purdy only open those days, so they were the least affected by it," Milburn said. "Even if [smaller branches] don't have high circulation, they are still used for computer access, Wi-Fi and entertainment. In Eagle Rock, where are you going to check out a movie? There's no Red Box. You're going to have to drive somewhere to get the things you need, so having a library can be really important."

Milburn said the decision was not made lightly.

"We had major discussions in board meetings, but Saturdays are our lowest use days," she said. "We'd already scheduled all our summer reading programs, so we tried to delay it as long as we could. The board decided since our tax levy failed, we were going to have to do something, not in retaliation, but our budget is such that if we don't do something, we're going to be in the red. So, we're looking into doing new things so we can continue providing library services to the community.

"What I keep telling customers is, if it doesn't work, we're flexible to go back to the drawing board, but at least we don't have to let staff go or close branches."

Milburn said the library system will revisit finances after receiving their first tax check in December, and revisit the levy next year.

"Fortunately, we did a survey to find out why people didn't vote, because we are planning to go back in April 2017 to try again," she said. "But, what we found was, a lot of people said, 'If you get grant money, why do you need the levy?' Grant money is a one-time thing, for very specific purposes, and they are matching grants where we must match up to 25 percent, so we still have to come up with money. There are no bricks and mortar grants that pay for continual building and operating costs."

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