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Passport program pulls in $300K for Hall Library System in first 2 years
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Emily Braselton helps Keven Martinez, 18, complete his passport application Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, at the Blackshear Place library. The Hall County Library System has been operating its passport program for two years. - photo by Scott Rogers

Revenue from a passport application program begun two years ago has, in part, allowed the Hall County Library System to increase operating hours at every branch, end furloughs for all workers and reinstate other cutbacks made during and after the Great Recession.

More than $300,000 of income was generated for the library system from January 2016, when the program launched, to December 2017.

The application fee is $25, which the library system keeps, and the federal government charges another $110 per adult. Additionally, the library charges a $15 photo fee for those in need of a headshot.

Blackshear Place library passport service

When: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday

Where: 2927 Atlanta Highway

Cost: $110 for those 16 and older, $80 for children 15 and younger; plus $25 execution fee and $15 photo fee for those in need of headshot

During that time frame, 9,662 passport applications have been filed, with 5,331 made in the 2017 fiscal year alone, which ended last June 30.

The only other place in Hall County where passport applications can be filed is at the post office on Limestone Parkway in Gainesville.

The library’s program is operated out of the Blackshear Place branch on Atlanta Highway.

The demand has been so high at Blackshear Place that a part-time position made to handle applications has turned to a full-time job, and revenue estimates have exceeded expectations, according to library system officials.

Mark Pettitt, chairman of the Library System Board of Trustees, said they “went out on a leap of faith” with the program, dipped into reserve funds to hire a part-time worker to operate the program and it’s all paid off.

“We haven’t heard any complaints,” he said, adding that additional staff might be necessary in the future. “We get patrons who love the way staff treats them. That’s not easy to find with any government entity.”

Pettitt said diversifying revenue streams “was a goal of mine when I came on board.”

Reliance on county property taxes for funding had resulted in years of budget reductions for the library system.

Passport revenue can be used for anything, whereas other funds are dedicated to new materials or new construction.

Pettitt said this revenue has been most beneficial in stabilizing the library system’s general fund budget.

Now, the system is focused on a major renovation of the downtown Gainesville branch.

About $1.5 million in special purpose local option sales tax revenue will be used to expand and modernize the branch, which Pettitt said is the smallest library system headquarters of any community of comparable size in the state.

“We know we need more space,” he added. “We’re just busting at the seams.”

Impact fees and a possible state grant with a local match will also likely support renovation costs.

Pettitt said a local architect has been hired to begin the design phase of the renovation, and two community input sessions were held late last year to hear what residents want from the makeover.

The passport program has been key in helping the library system settle its budget and prepare for this big project, Pettitt said.

“Now that we have 24 months worth of numbers, we can see some patterns and start to plan for the future,” he added.