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Libraries scale back after 20 percent of budget slashed
East Hall branch set to close, Clermont branch already shuttered
Bobby Jimerson, a maintenance technician with the Hall County Library System, wheels a chair into a moving van Monday at the East Hall library. Items such as furniture, DVDs and educational material adapted for those with special needs have been moved from the facility. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Coping with cuts

An occasional series examining the fallout of more than $11.5 million in cuts to Hall County’s fiscal 2012 budget.

In the silence of the nearly empty East Hall library Monday, Raymond Chandler thumbed through an issue of Car and Driver magazine as a county employee moved a chair out of the building on a handtruck.

Not far from the table where he sat, CDs and DVDs had been cleared from their shelves, and Chandler’s granddaughter, 10-year-old Capri Chandler, was the lone user of a computer.

“We’ve come as much as we could lately, just because they are closing,” Chandler said.

On Saturday, the library will close as part of systemwide changes to the county’s libraries, an adjustment in services that reflects dwindling funds.

Earlier this month, the library in Clermont closed. And after Saturday, the libraries that remain will have shorter operating hours and fewer staff members to help patrons.

Facing a 20 percent cut in local funding this year, Library Director Adrian Mixson recommended the changes, and his governing board approved them.

After Saturday, the system will have 25 fewer employees, only one of which who planned to retire.

The rest, mostly part-time employees, will join about 80 other county employees who lost their jobs due to budget cuts this year.

The consequences will be evident to patrons on Sunday, when even the remaining libraries will be closed for the day.
“Sundays are really going to hurt people, and there will only be two locations to use on the weekend,” Mixson said.

Along with cuts to their Sunday hours, libraries in Murrayville and Blackshear Place will only operate Monday through Thursday, with hours of operation on Monday and Thursday lasting from noon to 8 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mixson chose to cut the libraries in East Hall and Clermont because they were used less than other libraries.

The Clermont library closed on July 1, just one day after the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved the new budget. For the last few weeks, county employees have moved the library’s contents to the library in downtown Gainesville with the help of county prison details.

The books from Clermont will soon be distributed to the county’s remaining libraries, but those in East Hall will stay in the building, awaiting what Mixson hopes will be the future reopening of the branch.

“This way, we can just turn it back on,” Mixson said.

Toys and reading devices for those with special needs, once the calling card of the East Hall library, have already been moved to a media room in the Gainesville library in preparation for the closure.

Mixson is coordinating with Gainesville’s street engineers to establish parking for small buses on the Maple Street side of the building that would accommodate customers with mobility issues.

And a local chapter of the Georgia Council of the Blind, which made its home in East Hall because of its reading materials targeted for the visually impaired, is moving its meetings to the Murrayville library.

As the changes become a reality, Mixson said patrons are beginning to accept them.

“A lot of people didn’t believe this was going to happen, ever,” Mixson said. “...We heard a lot of people say ‘that’s not going to happen; it’s just politics.’”

On Monday, Raymond Chandler still had questions about the changes, like how the county government found itself in such a financial predicament that it had to close libraries and parks.

And he also questioned the fairness of the county’s new budget.

Property owners in the county will still be charged taxes at the same rate as the year before, but with this year’s budget cuts, they won’t get as much for their money — especially if they happen to be library patrons in Clermont and East Hall.

“The tax on my property and house is the same as somebody that lives in Oakwood, and they’ve still got a library,” Chandler said. “It’s not right.”