North Georgia libraries face cuts

North Georgia libraries face cuts

May 25th, 2012 by Tim Omarzu in News

Dusty Brock, center, and his son, Miles, 3, leave with books to read Thursday at the Chickamauga Public Library. Susan Stokes, left, uses a library computer to look at internet sites. The library system expects to have to reduce staff and cut hours due to budget woes.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Layoffs and reduced hours are likely at North Georgia's Cherokee Regional Library System, which has branches in Trenton, LaFayette, Chickamauga and Rossville.

That's because the library system's expenses for health care are going up and revenue the libraries get from the cash-strapped Walker and Dade school districts is going down -- though the exact revenue reductions aren't known yet.

Georgia has changed the way libraries pay their share of employees' health insurance, so costs for that are soaring.

As an example, library system Director Lecia Eubanks cited an employee who works 20 hours a week and earns $8.50 an hour. Currently, the library's share of the employee's health insurance is $1,624, or about 19 percent of salary.

Under the new requirements, the library has to pay $743 per month per employee, or about $8,900 annually.

"She doesn't even make that much in a year," Eubanks said.

In two years, the local match will increase to $912 per month per employee.

There's a silver lining. Currently, the state requires libraries to pay toward the insurance of employees who work more than 18.5 hours per week -- whether or not the employees use it. That requirement will disappear.

Still, all told, the higher insurance costs will add $30,000 to the library's annual expenses.

Statewide, the higher insurance costs will affect 1,165 library employees, according to Steve Schaefer, director of the Uncle Remus Regional Library System in Madison, Ga.

Bill Tierney of the Georgia Department of Community Health couldn't be reached Thursday for comment about the rate increase to the State Health Benefit Plan.

On the revenue side, Walker County Schools tentatively has indicated it's going to reduce its annual funding to the Cherokee Regional Library System by $34,000, or 59 percent, to $25,000. Dade County Schools also is expected to cut its contribution to the library system. Dade currently gives $38,000.

The school districts help fund the library system in recognition of its contribution to students' learning through things such as summer reading programs.

Library officials are trying to figure out how to respond and met all Thursday morning in LaFayette to discuss the issue.

Eubanks expects "significant cuts at all four libraries," adding, "There's no other choice."

The library system expects to lay employees off. Some may have their hours cut so the library doesn't have to provide health insurance.

"We realize it's devastating. It's not a happy day," Eubanks said.

Renee Roeder, manager of the Chickamauga Public Library, said most of its employees are part time and don't have state health insurance.

"It's very disheartening," Roeder said of the cutbacks. "We'll just do the best we can."