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Library facing staffing shortage in wake of budget cuts

Special Photo: Shelves in the children's section of the library sit bare. Degonia said it's impossible to find a book without the assistance of a librarian, but there is no longer a staff member dedicated to that area.

Special Photo: Shelves in the children's section of the library sit bare. Degonia said it's impossible to find a book without the assistance of a librarian, but there is no longer a staff member dedicated to that area.

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:Special Photo: Kim Degonia took this photo during a recent trip to the library. These books are waiting to be restocked in the children's library.

COVINGTON - The Newton County Library System continues to face deep cuts that are impacting services.

Staff at the library has been reduced by 57 percent since this time last year, according to Library Director Lace Keaton. Staff was reduced by 30 percent due to state budget cuts at the beginning of this year. Thanks to a hike in the cost to provide employee benefits, additional staff have left or had hours cut, she said.

Previously, a portion of an employee's salary went toward paying for health insurance, but the Georgia Department of Community Health decided earlier this year to charge a flat rate for anyone who has health insurance through the state. The cost is $745 per month per person, which equals out to $8,900 per year per person for health insurance. That cost will increase to $845 per month next year and $945 the following year, Keaton said.

"We simply could not absorb the cost," she said, adding that, "If they make $7.25 an hour, we still have to pay the $745 (per month). That's not including salary, taxes, retirement that goes along with it."

So part-time staff have had hours cut to under 17.5 a week, to get them below the threshold of health insurance eligibility.

The loss of benefits has resulted in several employees leaving the library or retiring, she said. The library system staff has dwindled from 41 to 21, with 12 full-time and nine part-time. Those are employees covering both the Covington and Porter Memorial branches and the Newborn service outlet.

Earlier this year, library staff was cut by 30 percent and remaining staff, both full- and part-time took salary reductions. Now, the state has reduced its allocation to the library by another 2 percent this fiscal year.

"We're still absolutely dedicated to providing services to everybody in Newton County," Keaton said, but added that there has been an impact to services.

Some local parents are concerned that impact is being felt too much in the children's section of the library.

Kim Degonia, who home schools her three children and uses the library once or twice a week, said there has been a significant change in that section over the last few months, with the children's librarian's desk removed and no one staff member dedicated to serving that area. Books are also not being restocked, leaving shelves empty, she said.

Degonia and her three children -- Denver, 5; Spencer, 9; and John Robert, 11 -- spent a recent afternoon counting the number of books in the sorting area waiting to be re-shelved.

"We stopped at 1,000," she said.

Degonia and about 30 others showed up at the library board of director's meeting Thursday morning to express their concerns.

"I know so many people rely on that library for their children and grandchildren ... I know they have enormous financial considerations and I know funding has been cut and cut and cut. The problem for our children and parents and grandparents is we can't wait 10 years for them to put that (librarian's) desk back," she said.

Keaton said there is still a children's librarian and staff dedicated to hosting children's activities, such as the Summer Reading Program. But they are also having to devote their time to other activities.

"There have not been cuts directed at the children's library. We still had summer reading and we have other programs; we have had to decrease the number of programs, not the quality, just the quantity," she said. "In the summer it's always hard to keep up with the volume of books that come in at the end of the summer reading program, but with a reduced staff, it's more apparent. There are not as many people to shelve as fast as we did last year."

But Degonia said there's been no sight of the regular children's librarian in many weeks. Instead, a sign directs patrons to the main desk, which is backed up with long lines.

Degonia is asking concerned citizens to attend the Board of Commissioners meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Newton County Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St.

"I feel forced to move a little further. I didn't get a satisfactory response today from the library board," she said. "I believe the board cares deeply about the library. They are volunteers, doing that for free. But they were unable to indicate at all whether they will have a children's librarian present. I would like the Board of Commissioners to be aware of the situation here ... We're just trying to try to save what we have. I'm not asking for improvements or new books, just put back what we had."

The library does have funds to hire two positions left vacant by departing employees, Keaton said, and volunteers are working diligently to get shelves restocked. Anyone who wants to volunteer to help the library can get more information by calling 770-787-3231.

"We have wonderful volunteers, a wonderful Friends of the Library (non-profit) and a really great library board. We will continue to provide the best service that we can," Keaton said.

Comments

dennistay53 2 years, 2 months ago

This is just a suggestion from a dummy like myself. From reading this it appears that the library system needs labor, not necessary paid labor or money. What if every elected official and high paid executive being paid by the taxpayers were to give back to the community. Say they gave just 4 hrs a month ( or like salary ) to the library system. I'm talking commissioners, school board, tax commissioner, clerk of courts, judges, county mgr, county attorney, sheriff, school executives, chamber members, clean and beautiful, landscape and other county contractors, etc.. I bet we could kept the books on shelves without furthur burden to property tax payers. I also bet this would give the community a better view of our elected officials and executives. It,s called co-operation, understanding, getting the job done, doing whatever it takes, community pride, rolling up your sleeves, mingling with the citizen, and mostly caring about the children, education,eldely, hourly county workers and a sense of pride. I bet it would lead to more citizen volunteers, county moral and sense of pride. Before you laugh i,m sure some can remember when we use to go out in the 1990,s and pick trash up on the highways with some elected officials helping us. Even though i.m just a regular citizen i would gladly do my 4 hrs if the ones above would do the same. During these rough times i can give 4 hrs a lot easiler than i can pay more property tax. When the going gets tough the tough need to get going.If the county attorney will make the schedule he can put my name right beside his.

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henrystamm 2 years, 2 months ago

Sadly the public libraries are becoming obsolete and are on their way out. The Internet is replacing them. I do not remember going to the local library for any research in the last 20 years. Sad!

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RetiredGuy 2 years, 2 months ago

Libraries will never become obsolete and they are far from being on their way out. All you need to do is visit the Newton library. There is always a line to get on the library internet computers. There are always people reading the local and out of town news papers. Many people visit to read the magazines. Adults as well as kids have educational activities. People bring their own laptop computers and do research in the library.

Libraries have been a part of the education of people since the 3rd century BC in Egypt. They will be with us for the rest of mans history. All we need to do is get the politicians to fund it the way it should be funded.

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evry1nozits 2 years, 2 months ago

It is sad... for you! Many kids still do their research for school projects at the library, both with books and using the library computers, and electronic resources through the library. Many people still do genealogical research in the Heritage Room, and using the library's electronic resources and microfiche. The library also serves as a community meeting place, for parents, teens, and retirees.
You're missing out on a vital piece of your community. I invite you to visit and see for yourself!

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RetiredGuy 2 years, 2 months ago

All of these staff cuts and reductions in funding by the state and county are wrong, just plain wrong.

A library is part of the education system for children as well as adults. The Newton County Board of Education as well as the County Commissioners should find more money some place in their budgets to provide more money to the Library.

My wife and I are both retired and we visit the Library every week. The Library is an essential part of the community in Newton County and needs to be funded as such.

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John 2 years, 2 months ago

They only way to improve service at the library in today's economic status (lower property values equals lower tax revenue) is to increases revenue. A couple options are: 1. Increase property taxes 2. Or institute a "users pay" policy via annual and/or per visit fee for those that wish use it. 3. Abandon some of the "not really" needed projects - like the trail from EHS to the Floyd St. library. 4. Or a combination of all of the above. Personally, the last time I used a library (other than to pick-up income tax forms) was in 1967. As far as students in school go, the schools which I have been in do have libraries & computers for student use.

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evry1nozits 2 years, 2 months ago

As long as the general public is hoodwinked into seeing an increase in the millage rate as an increase in the actual taxes they have to pay, there will be further cuts. People need to have a basic math lesson: the millage rate is a tiny percentage based on the assessed market value of your home. If that value decreases (as it has for nearly everyone), then the millage percentage is also lowered. The millage rate was designed this way on purpose, to offset the highs and lows of real estate values. Problem is, when the powers that be want to garner votes, they refuse to recalculate the millage rate to make up for the shortfall, telling people that they're fighting 'tax increases'.
Wake up Newton County! Get a clue! Do the math! If everyone's millage rate was increased just enough to absorb the lowered values of homes, there would BE NO BUDGET CUTS! If and when the value of properties increase, the millage rate COULD BE LOWERED. That's the way it's supposed to work.

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dennistay53 2 years, 2 months ago

How many times have you ever seen it lowered in Newton County?When the economy is poor the government should have to tighen their belts the same as the taxpayers. You are also supposed to have consistant and fair tax assessments. Newton County tax assessments are a mess. The value HAS NOT decreased for everyone. There are other ways to come up with revenues that everone (not just home and business owners ) would have to share. Usage tax is a much better way to go in poor economies.

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jjhayden3rd 2 years, 2 months ago

It turns out that if you want to look for a replacement or a 2nd or 3rd job, you can find an Internet commected computer to use for free at the library. It turns out that the resaon there isn't a full-time reference position at either library is that people are using Internet searches so they cut that position to adjust to changes in techology. It also turns out that as the economy goes down, the number of people using the library goes up. The bottom line is that since the founding of our nation (Ben Frankin started a library for the public) libraries have been an essential resource for all our people, no matter what their income. The reason that we, you and I don't have more services and resources at our libraries is that our county and city elected officials don't believe that the library is important enough to fully fund, as comparied to the other demands on the county We don't have anyone to blame but ourselves because we are in the process of electing our public servants right now.

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dennistay53 2 years, 2 months ago

Anytime millage rates go up it IS a tax increase. Please let me explain. Property tax are supposed to be based on value. If your property value goes down 50% your tax should follow it down. If millage rate is increased you are paying more tax per dollar of value thus a tax increase. THIS is simple math. The problem we have today is that when property values in Newton County were way up and all this building was going on and the county coffers were receiving all this building money- nothing was put away for a rainy day. They just kept spending every penny they received. The rainey days came and the county has little to no reserves. So what do they do? Decide to build more ball fields and a aggriculture center. The SPLOST was voted in to pay the construction but how are we going to pay to maintain these and people to run them since no reserves are being set aside? Now we are going to borrow money to build another resorvoir. We have know for at least a decade that this was going to be built. We had all these years to be setting aside some of our water funds (during the good times) to help cover for this- but we didn't. Same with the libraries. Reserves should have been set aside to run it for- say 5 years- before ground was broke on it-In the past ways to get money from the state and feds to help. Those days are over. We are broke and they are broke. The problem is years- no decades of poor or no planning. We know we have to build schools years in advance but no planning for reserves to hire the teachers and run the schools. Now the millage is maxed out and teachers and county employees had to be laid off and holidays taken away- why- because4 of no planning for rainy days.But we learn nothing as we keep building with no plans or savings to pay help and to run it. What do we do? We vote out the chairman who came into a mess and did all she could to do right? It ain't getting no better until the board starts doing a better job of planning ahead and quits borrowing with no means of paying back.

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KimberlyD 2 years, 2 months ago

If Mrs. Degonia is so concerned, why not volunteer? Budget cuts are felt everywhere....Everytime I'm there I see 2 people at the counter and the rest behind the glass in an office area....If this was a non-gov't company they'd be expected to shelf the books between customers instead of saying oh we don't have the staff and time to do it. But at the pay of $7.25 an hour you get what you pay for. I only go there to check out a book or two I may wanna read, I don't go there for research even when i was in college UNLESS I needed something I couldn't find myself on the internet....They could implement a self-check out, it's available at grocery stores and you don't have to "pay" money at the library so it's basically idiot proof, that way that frees up the time of the staff to put up books and other tasks they need to do.

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Silverbullet 2 years, 2 months ago

Summarize, Prioritize, Budget, Focus, FIX THE PROBLEM! Not just at the library but this is the formula for success in any life, government, or private enterprise. Otherwise you are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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inthemiddle 2 years, 2 months ago

Last time I went to the library, I couldn't even think to read due to the noise level. It seemed every person in there was there to use the free internet so they could check their facebook while their 13 kids ran wild through the building. I doubt that many people actually go there to do anything more than use the internet or check out free movies.

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dennistay53 2 years, 2 months ago

My first entry here was not made as a joke. I stand by my offer because many property owners, especially the elderly like myself can't take a tax increase during these times. I will raise my offer and lower my expectations. I will volunteer 8 hrs a month if each of the elected board, their attorneys and executives would give back 4 hrs of services a month to the libraries. I encourage others to join me in this offer. I will make this offer either in writing to each board or at their meetings. I would also encourage the library board to seek more help if needed from school work study students or even low risk prisioners at our local jail who would problem much ruther do something than sitting in jail. I talking about ones who maybe there simply because they couldn't afford to pay a traffic violation. Even tho i am 60 years old i have been know to work rings around ones half my age. I have over 35 years management experience including over 15 in front line management so i could make sure everyone else is doing their job while i,m doing mine. I also have leadership training from our local techinical school so you will be gettin g free labor and experience while hopefully saving the property owners from a tax increase.

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NewtonCitizen 2 years, 2 months ago

I find it shameful that Newton County refusees to properly fund the library. Volunteers cannot replace what a librarian does nor can they be relied upon to give consistent service, and at best can help out as book shelvers. Who do you think knows what books to order and plans out all of the wonderful resources in the library? Those computers everyone is lined up to use have more than the internet on them. There are all sorts of databases that many people have no idea how to use, or even that they are there to be used. Were you aware the library has Ancestry.com? Do you know how to use it? Who is going to help you learn about all of the resources if you don't have a librarian there to assist you?

Citizens of Newton county, I implore you to go to a county where there is a thriving library, and sit right by the librarian's desk for a few hours and then come back and tell us again how we don't need to support our library.

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dennistay53 2 years, 2 months ago

That is the reason i ask for help from the professionals in our county government bodies. You can't tell me that the school board and executives do not know how to order books. People the county is broke, economy has been poor for years, taxpayers are hurting, the state and feds don't have the money to hand out any more. It,s not that something is not important but what is the most important. When you don't have money to repair unsafe roads then you shouldn't even think about funding anything else until that problem is fixed.The budget is set. My suggestion of volunteers is only a temporary fix until the next budget is set next year. It's the county mgr job to address this, but if there is no money for roads then there should not be any extra laying around anywhere else. I went to the budget hearing and was only 1 of two to speak up. That is the time to speak for more funding. Maybe there is free money grant that can be found for the library but i,m sure a lot of counties and states would be lined up ahead of us. Bottom line- if we don't like the way things are going we need to get involved each year at budget time and pack the hearing room.

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dennistay53 2 years, 2 months ago

How dare the Board of commissioners to open up an agenda spot for a county magistrate judge to talk not about the court system but about getting more funding for the library. To me this is a total conflict of interest. How dare the county commission agree to form a subcomittee for the library. The budget is set, they voted and approved it. We are paying these commissioners with our tax dollars. They should be working on how to repair unsafe roads among other things. As the other who spoke said, if you can't staff both libraries why did you spend 9 million to build the second one. Shut one down and run the other efficient. If the library speakers don't mind giving us all a tax increase they shouldn't mind paying a user fee if they want both libraries staffed. If they are going to open up agenda spots for county employees to talk about subjects that is not their job description, then open them up to the taxpayers who wish to give an opposite view. Why did we have to wait until the end of the meeting to give our views with only 3 minutes to do so. This is very unfair to concerned citizens who may have a view they might not agree with. Ater tonight i am totally ashamed of the people who are running our government. There is no fairness in how they operate. No wonder the normal every day citizen does not go to these meetings. These meetings are run for the benefit of the influential only.

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