The Hall County Library Board is moving forward with a plan to close the East Hall and Clermont libraries on July 1 and cut operating hours at the four libraries that remain.
The board voted in a 5-2 decision Tuesday to deal with what is expected to be a 20 percent reduction in funding from the Hall County Board of Commissioners for the upcoming fiscal year.
Along with library closures and reduced hours, Tuesday's decision means 21 part-time staff positions and four full-time employees will be terminated in July. Of the staff reductions, only one is due to a planned retirement, according to Library Director Adrian Mixson.
Employees who lose their jobs will be able to work through July.
The two board members who voted against the plan, Sandra Cantrell and Lisa Adams, represent the areas affected by the library closures.
Cantrell expressed concerns that users of the Clermont library would suffer most from the cuts, as Clermont is located at least a 20-minute drive from the remaining branches.
"I think you're doing a disservice to people in North Hall," Cantrell said. "...It seems like there would be another option for the people of North Hall."
Adams, too, thought there should be some remedy for the North Hall closure. She asked about the possibility of an "express library" in which patrons could at least pick up and drop off materials.
Mixson said the idea could be considered but would require capital expenditures that he didn't know how to fund in the current budget situation.
"At some point, you think ‘everybody goes to Gainesville at least once a week,'" Adams said.
"Well, everybody doesn't. Not up there."
Mixson made his recommendation for which libraries should close based on use: numbers of visitors, borrowed books and computer users.
With some 35,240 visitors, the East Hall Library had the second-lowest number of visitors in 2010, above only Clermont, which had fewer than 10,000 visits, Mixson's data showed.
In contrast, Blackshear Place and Spout Springs each served more than 100,000 people last year. More than 200,000 people visited the Gainesville branch.
But even the most-used libraries will be affected by the cuts. The board's decision Tuesday includes closing the Gainesville and Spout Springs libraries on Sundays and cutting operations at Murrayville and Blackshear Place to Monday through Thursdays.
Hours would also change at Murrayville and Blackshear Place. On Mondays and Thursdays, the two libraries would be open from 12 to 8 p.m. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the libraries would operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cutting library hours across the board in order to keep all the branches open at least some of the time, Mixson said, wasn't an option.
In order to get the state to pay for expensive telecommunications lines that bring in Internet service, the library director is required to keep a branch open 32 hours per week, he said. With the proposed 20 percent cut in county funding, Mixson said it wasn't possible to keep all of the branches open that much.
He said he also could not afford the cost of the telecommunications lines if he went below the state's requirement of 32 hours of operation.
Once it closes, the building for the East Hall branch will likely be used as a storage facility.
Materials from the East Hall library that are targeted to patrons with disabilities will likely be moved to the downtown Gainesville branch, Mixson said.
The 1,700 items in the collection at the Clermont library will be moved into storage and used to fill holes in collections at the remaining branches, Mixson said.
Board members acted Tuesday on an assumption that the Hall County Board of Commissioners, facing an $11.5 million revenue shortfall, plans to cut the library system's funding by 20 percent, or about $467,000, in the upcoming fiscal year.
With their decision, board members gave themselves the option to adjust the library system's budget at a July 12 meeting if the commission makes smaller cuts using revenue generated from a possible increase in property tax rates.
But Mixson said he's not expecting anything to change, even if commissioners decide to raise taxes.
"I'm a pessimist this time, and I think we're looking at $467,000," Mixson said.
Although the library system's county-provided budget won't be final until June 30, Mixson asked the library board to approve the spending plan Tuesday so he could begin to plan for the cuts.
"I want to be able to put into action the worst-case scenario," Mixson said.
The proposal reduces the library workforce from 70 to 45. Those whose jobs have been eliminated will be notified by July 15 and be given another two weeks to work, Mixson said.