COVINGTON -- The Newton County Library System will cut 30 percent of its staff and reduce hours at the Covington branch, effective Jan. 1.
The cuts will total more than $400,000 and are necessary to cut $200,000 from the library budget the last six months of this fiscal year, as well as an additional $200,000 next fiscal year, according to Director Lace Keaton.
The library currently has 38 employees at the Covington and Porter Memorial branches. The library also has a service outlet at Newborn Town Hall, managed a few hours a week by a Porter Memorial employee. Keaton said the exact number of positions to be eliminated has not been decided, but it will need to total approximately 30 percent of employees. A final decision must be made by the end of the year.
Hours at the Covington branch are being reduced from 44 to 40 hours per week. The state requires that at least one facility in the system be open 40 hours per week. Porter Memorial is open 35 hours a week.
The Covington branch will now open at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. That will cut one hour from Tuesday through Friday. Saturday the library will still be open four hours, but from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. instead of the current 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"Obviously, if we have service hours cut, this will definitely impact our patrons. We will have to provide services in a different way, streamline services," Keaton said.
Programs will likely have to be limited to certain days of the week when staff is available and patrons can expect longer wait times to check out and be helped.
"I anticipate everything, all our services, being impacted in some way or another, especially in the summer when kids are out of school, there will be a much longer wait," Keaton said.
Statewide library funding cuts meant the library system did not receive any state funding for materials this year. State funding was reduced from $337,949 to $283,884
Newton County reduced the library allocation from $1.1 million to $916,452, an 18 percent cut. However, Chairman Kathy Morgan has said that $300,000 allocated for operations of the new Porter Memorial Branch last year was a one-time allocation to get the new library running. This year, the libraries were both under one line item.
Library officials initially asked for $600,000 in additional funds, as the $300,000 from the prior year only covered six months of operation for Porter Memorial. After learning of the county's budget woes, they reduced the request to $300,000, in additional funds, but ultimately received $100,000.
Keaton said staff members are prepared to soldier on, adding that, "We will survive this."
"The staff has been wonderful and understanding. This is a wonderful library board, very committed to doing what's best for this library," Keaton said.