An expected change to the way the state funds public libraries could mean less money overall for the Hall County Library System.
“The state has decided to change its funding formula,” said Adrian Mixson, Hall library director. “And they’re doing it at a time when we’re all still struggling.”
The Georgia Public Library System previously allowed funding to be used for multiple expenses, such as operating costs. The change, expected to go into effect in July 2014 for the 2015 fiscal year, would earmark state funding for professional positions.
For Hall, Mixson said that means around $71,000 per year less in funds if the new formula goes into effect.
Julie Walker, deputy state librarian, said library directors had asked the state for more leniency in funding when the economy deteriorated five years ago.
“The libraries ... asked us at the state level to allow each system to determine where they took their reductions,” Walker said. “So if there was a 5 percent reduction one year, some people took it out of their materials money, some took it out of their operating budget, some took it out of their salaries.”
That’s happened for the past five years, Walker said, to the point there was no rhyme or reason to how libraries were funded.
Last year, state government required the department to go through a zero-based budgeting process, meaning the library system had to start from scratch when creating its upcoming budgets. This gave the system an opportunity to revamp the funding formula, Walker said.
“At that part of this process, we knew our formula was irretrievably broken,” Walker said. “So we thought, ‘Now is the perfect time to work with these budget analysts, and come up with a formula that works.’”
As part of that process, the Georgia Public Library System pulled together the 63 library directors across the state to determine how to fairly distribute the money.
Those meetings led to the consensus that the most important thing the state provides is the funding for the professional librarian positions, which in Georgia require a master’s degree and certification.
Funding, now mostly for those professional positions, will be determined by population and how many counties the library system serves. Funding is for one librarian per county, and also per 80,000 people.
Walker said if a system had seven librarians, for example, the state would fund those salaries plus benefits.
“If the local library system wanted to supplement that money for someone who had a lot of experience or if they wanted to give raises based on merit, they could do that,” she added. “They’ve got some flexibility. ... It lets the library director determine where to spend that money, once we send that lump sum.”
Systems would receive lesser funds for extra population that did not meet that 80,000 threshold; for example, if a system met 98 percent of that population, it would receive 98 percent funding.
But according to Mixson, it’s a death knell for the systems that serve only one county, like Hall.
The change would lead to $71,000 less per year for the local libraries, he said.
A chart Mixson provided in a recent library newsletter shows the system is currently allocated $1.91 per person it serves from the state; the proposed formula would drop that to $1.47.
Funding from the state for the library was slightly more than $365,000 this fiscal year; under the proposed formula, it would be slightly more than $296,000, about a $71,000 difference.
“That’s a lot of money,” Mixson said. “That’s programs you can’t start, buildings you can’t run, people you can’t hire.”
Walker said some of the smaller systems will do better under the new formula, but added it’s ultimately not the state’s responsibility to provide for the day-to-day operations of libraries.
“Fundamentally, public libraries are a local responsibility,” she said. “The state money should be used to enhance those services and to provide some extras.
“We do understand, (local government) budgets have gone down, our budgets have gone down,” Walker added. “Public libraries are hurting in all sorts of ways. Our goal is to try to do the best we can to help libraries in the parts we’re good at.”