• Libraries will cut back to 30 hours per week and likely will be closed Mondays and Wednesdays.
• Three employees will be laid off.
• Three will lose health insurance.
• Nine will have their hours reduced.
LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- After July 1, the Cherokee Regional Library's branches in the Georgia cities of LaFayette, Chickamauga, Rossville and Trenton will be open only 30 hours a week.
The reduced hours will most likely mean that all four libraries are closed Mondays and Wednesdays -- though that hasn't been decided.
Three employees will lose their jobs, three will lose health benefits and nine will have their hours reduced.
The library board approved the cuts Tuesday after an $83,000 budget shortfall caused by an increase in state health insurance costs and a reduction in funding from the Walker and Dade county school districts.
"It's devastating," library Director Lecia Eubanks said of the reductions, which will affect 15 of the library's 23 employees.
Walker County Schools had been giving $59,000 to the library district, which offers such benefits to students as a summer reading program, but the cash-strapped school district is reducing its contribution to $25,000.
"Walker County [Schools] has never paid its fair share," library trustee Donna Street said, comparing it unfavorably to the Dade County School District, which gives $38,000 annually but only has about a third the number of students.
Dade plans to cut funding, too, but the amount won't be known until mid-August.
The Cherokee Regional Library gets 43 percent of its funding from Dade and Walker county governments, 39 percent from the cities it serves, 10 percent from schools and 8 percent from fines and fees.
Eubanks said that, statewide, library funding is "all across the board." For example, in Catoosa County the schools don't pay anything, but county government contributes $512,000 to its two libraries.
"We run four libraries for less than $500,000," Eubanks said. "We've been doing the impossible. It's been smoke and mirrors, and it just isn't going to be able to continue."
She enumerated a list of services the four libraries provide, including registering people to vote and helping out-of-work people get online to file for unemployment benefits and seek jobs.
"There's just a lot of people coming in the door that rely on us," Eubanks said.
Michael and Cindy Sharrock used the Rossville Public Library when they successfully applied to be on the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" TV show last year to get their Rossville home retrofitted to accommodate their son Patrick's brittle bone disease.
"They used the Rossville Public Library and faxed every form they needed to qualify," Eubanks said.
Lucy Raulston was using the Rossville Public Library on Tuesday afternoon.
"The library's just not a disposable thing," said Raulston, who has been going there since 1961 and has seen an increase in its use.
"When I go in there, all the computers are full and there's always five or six people checking out books," Raulston said. "For me, this is my main source of entertainment. I read constantly."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.