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Published on - Oct. 21, 2008
Gulf Beaches Library discovers additional funds
Board members still plan budget reductions to meet ongoing financial crisis
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MADEIRA BEACH – A reserve account containing more than $300,000 – an amount that came as a surprise to library board members – has made the Gulf Beaches Public Library’s immediate financial situation less precarious.

Nonetheless, library board members agreed at an emergency meeting Monday that drastic steps need to be taken to balance the budget and ensure the library’s long-term survival.

The library’s continued existence has been called into question since Treasure Island pulled out from the 5-community alliance that supports the facility. The city’s withdrawal left the library facing a more than $100,000 shortfall from a total budget that has been more than $500,000 in recent years.

Existence of the “undiscovered” reserve amount came to light during a comprehensive line by line analysis of the budget by the board. Library Director Jan Horah said the money had been accumulating for some time and an auditor had recommended that a large portion be spent soon.

Though the monetary cushion brings the library’s total reserves to more than $500,000, board members were reluctant to draw from reserves. A new resolve to make substantial reductions where necessary, even in the sensitive areas of staffing and operating hours, was evident from the outset of the meeting.

“We can’t run the library very long on reserves. If we say we will run on the reserves, we are setting a drop dead date (to close) the library,” board member Sharon Danielsen said. She added, “We are going to have to make some sacrifices to keep the library open.”

No major budget cuts emerged from the session. Reductions totaling about $11,000 were approved in the operational (non-salary) expense portion of the budget. Board members said they needed further information before making additional cuts.

The most significant decision affecting the library’s operation was approval of a motion to cut operating hours from 53 to 40 hours a week, a 25 percent reduction. That is the minimum county public libraries are required to be open, Danielsen said.

That move could lead to staff reductions, board chairman Nick Simons pointed out. Salaries and related benefits accounted for 65 percent of the library’s total costs last year.

Other local libraries have cut back their hours to save costs, board member Barbara Millar said.

A suggestion that staffing be adjusted to meet seasonal variations in the library’s patronage drew a rebuke from director Horah. She said it is very difficult to find people willing to work part time for four months only.

Redington Shores Mayor Jody Armstrong offered to help the library evaluate staffing needs with reduced operating hour schedules. Armstrong mentioned her prior experience as an airline scheduler. The board agreed that Jan Horah should provide information about current personnel schedules so that Armstrong, along with board member Sharon Danielsen, can analyze the impact of schedule changes.

Armstrong also suggested the library look at fundraising and other revenue producing activities as an alternative to cuts. She said the library needs to be generating revenues to offset the deficits. “You can’t totally hack your way into productivity,” she warned.
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