By STEVE LYTTLE
The Charlotte Observer
Mecklenburg County’s library board will vote Thursday on a proposal which would close half the county’s branches and lay off 140 employees within a matter of weeks.
The proposal, announced to employees Wednesday morning, is the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s way of coping with a 6.3 percent funding reduction in the current fiscal year.
The layoffs and closing of 12 library branches would happen by April 3, according to library officials.
County Manager Harry Jones said Tuesday that all branches of county government – including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Department of Social Services – must return millions of dollars to help the county cope with a big budget deficit.
The deficit is a direct result of the recession, caused by a big drop in consumer spending and resulting sales taxes.
These cuts are in addition to even bigger budget trimming expected in the 2010-11 fiscal year, county officials say.
The library has been told to return $2 million from its budget before June 30. That will require layoffs, library closings and other cuts in services, library director Charles Brown said.
“The decision to cut library staff and close library locations was extremely difficult,” Brown said. “We value the contributions of our exceptional library employees.
“I’m heartbroken for what they face, and for what we face as a community with the closure of almost 50 percent of our libraries.”
Brown did not announce which libraries will close. He said that announcement would be made after Jones meets with the library’s board of directors at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and the board meets at noon to vote on the layoffs and closings. Letters will be mailed Friday to all employees affected by layoffs, according to library officials.
Brown said the library already had to cut $4 million from its budget over the past year. He said the board was able to absorb that cut by ordering across-the-board salary and benefit reductions for the staff, and by cutting the book and materials budget.
The latest cut, Brown said, makes layoffs and library closings inevitable.
He said library closings will be based on the overall cost of library operations, usage levels, proximity to other branches, and library size.
Library officials said Mecklenburg residents will notice other changes, including less-frequent building maintenance, more limited technology resources, and longer waiting times for books and other materials.
“These are difficult times,” Brown said. “Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries haven’t seen such large-scale reductions since the Great Depression, when it had to close its doors completely.”
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Here’s the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library news release about the potential cuts:
SOURCE: Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Library learns of $2 million cut in current budget year
On Tuesday, March 16, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library learned that Mecklenburg County would be reducing the Library’s funding for Fiscal Year 2010 by 6.3 percent, or $2 million dollars, before June 30, 2010.
To absorb a $2 million reduction in such a short period of time, the Library will need to lay off at least 140 employees, resulting in the closure of at least twelve Library locations, pending final library board approval.
The $2 million reduction comes on the heels of a $4 million reduction in county funds since January 2009. To absorb those earlier reductions without direct service impacts on the public, The Library Board took several measures including across the board salary and benefit reductions for staff, and making significant cuts in the Library’s book and materials budget. The need to return $2 million dollars in additional reductions to Mecklenburg County within a three month period of time means that it is no longer possible for the Library to defer lay-offs and location closings.
The Library Board of Trustees will consider these options at their regular meeting on Thursday, March 18 at 12 p.m. in the Francis Auditorium. County Manager Harry Jones will meet with the board prior to the meeting at 11:30 a.m. As soon as possible after that meeting, the Library will announce which library locations will be closed. Once the decision has been made to close locations, it will take approximately two weeks to complete the closing.
Said Director Charles Brown, “The decision to cut library staff and close library locations was extremely difficult. We value the contributions of our exceptional library employees. Losing their jobs in these uncertain economic times we know will place considerable hardships on them and their families. I’m heartbroken for what they face and for what we face as a community with the closure of almost 50% of our libraries. Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries have been a critical component of the community since 1903. We provide access to self-directed education and enrichment opportunities for all, without regard to age, income, or previous level of educational attainment. We also understand the hardship that Mecklenburg County is facing as a whole. These are difficult times. Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries haven’t seen such large-scale reductions since the Great Depression when it had to close its doors completely”
The library will use its Reduction in Force (RIF) policy to determine layoffs. Library closings will be made based on the overall cost of library operations, usage levels, proximity to other branches and library size.
In addition to fewer locations, hours and staff, library customers will notice other budget impacts, including less frequent building maintenance, more limited technology resources, and longer wait times for books and other materials.
To keep the public aware of budget updates as they occur, the Library has created a special budget page on its website. Go to www.cmlibrary.org, click on “About Us,” and then “Budget” to stay informed. Those interested in supporting the Library can make a financial contribution, volunteer, or even encourage friends and family to pay fines and fees promptly. Go to www.cmlibrary.org/support for more information.
Decisions on how Mecklenburg County taxpayer dollars are allocated to Libraries and other County-funded agencies are made by the Board of County Commissioners. Any citizen may contact their County Commissioner by visiting www.charmeck.org.
For more information about the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, visit our website at www.cmlibrary.org. Also look for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.