The Hall County Library System has been “stonewalled” by federal officials in its effort to launch a passport program.
“We wanted it to be up and running this fall,” said Mark Pettitt, chairman of the library Board of Trustees. “It makes sense for us to offer this service.”
But the program likely won’t take off until 2016 after library officials were informed that the federal government is not accepting applications from agencies looking to issue passports.
“We’re not completely happy with that answer ... we’re hearing locally that the demand is there,” said library system Director Lisa MacKinney.
MacKinney said she believes a current backlog of applications is to blame, and it could be another six months before the library system gets the green light.
The Hall County Clerk of Courts stopped processing passport applications last year, with court officials saying that budget cuts had limited the personnel and resources available to operate such a program.
The post office on Limestone Parkway is now the only location in Hall County that issues passports.
Clerk’s offices in White, Lumpkin, Dawson and Habersham counties will continue to offer the service.
Library board members said they will reach out to state and federal lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., to assist in getting the library system approved.
The library system has seen dramatic budget cuts in recent years, and officials believe a passport service can help bring some stability to its finances.
For example, the system’s budget stands at $2.62 million for the current fiscal year, down from about $3.7 million in 2008, an almost 30 percent drop.
While this year’s budget ends furlough days for workers, expands hours for the Gainesville and Spout Springs branches, and includes small raises for about a handful of employees, the system is also receiving about $80,000 less in funding from the state.
Pettitt said the passport program could generate between $80,000 and $120,000 annually.
“That is a significant amount of change for our system,” he added.