Library, county officials discuss funding inequalities

Published 8:29 am Monday, November 16, 2015

The Elizabethton/Carter County Library is serving more and more people these days. Last year, the library had more than 100,000 visitors.
Ninety percent of those who use the library live outside the city limits in Carter County, said Library director Renita Barksdale. However, she pointed out the county contributes less than seven percent of the library’s annual budget.
To address this issue, on November 2, Barksdale did a presentation for the Carter County Education Committee, providing information on the purpose, staffing, contributions and usage of the library.
“We met there with them to hear the disparaging difference between what the city and county contribute towards the operation of the library,” said Carter County Education Committee Chair Charles VonCannon. “According to the figures we were given in the meeting, it turns out that the city users are very few compared to county number.”
Barksdale said the patron count is measured through a software system that catalogs library card usage. According to this data, the library had about 100,00 visits from patrons and visitors last year, of which only 10 percent were city residents.
Of the library’s $470,157 budget, the city pays $438,570, and the county pays $31,587.
“It is a glaring, glaring difference—so much so that Lilo Duncan (Friends of the Library Director) says that since 1990, this has been a constant struggle,” VonCannon said.
Barksdale broke it down further to say that 25 percent of the tax base (roughly 14,000 city residents out of 57,000 total Carter County residents) provides 93 percent of the budget.
VonCannon said the budget committee makes a total recommendation after their study to the commission, and that the commission always assumes that the budget or any other committee has done their job.
“I plan to bring the case to the budget committee with information about the city and county contributions,” said VonCannon.
He said he also has plans to talk about it at Monday’s commission meeting.
Barksdale said she went before the committee to stress the difference in usage and funding, and that they want the county to give more.
“If we had to depend on the county, the library wouldn’t even exist,” she said. “We can’t keep the doors open with that.”
She pointed out that the books and materials budget alone is $35,000.
In her presentation, she explained the library provides more than book checkouts, it provides electronic materials, educational classes and programs. Last year, it offered 24 adult programs and 184 juvenile programs.
These programs, the library archives and other services are facilitated by a limited staff, which according to Barksdale, is comprised of eight people which is short of the state standards.
“We can’t meet standards with our current funding,” said Barksdale.
She also noted that her staff is underpaid and in need of additional personnel.
“I think we need at least two people with masters of library science degrees, and it will be hard to get them without offering a competitive salary,” she said.
The current patron service supervisor is enrolled in courses now and on track to earn her masters of library science next year. Barksdale said she hopes they will be able to offer her a competitive salary so she will be able to continue work with the ECCPL.
She also mentioned the need for satellite locations in Roan Mountain and in the Little Milligan area. She explained that for many residents, it is difficult to come down the mountain for materials, especially during the winter, but that children and adults need resources.
Barksdale said one member of the library staff suggested a bookmobile, but she said that something like that will be out of the question until more funding is made available. She has other plans for the library, but said it all hinges on whether appropriate funding is available.
“In February, when the new budget is formulated, people from the Education Committee will be there to help the library, and I plan to be there to help,” said VonCannon.
He said the budget is annually considered in February and usually finalized by August, and August would be the soonest this could change.
“It needs to change because, surely with more county residents using the library than the city, the city is getting short-changed,” VonCannon said.

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