Friday, August 07, 2015

TOP STORY >> Library closing Dec. 31

Leader staff writer

Ward Mayor Art Brooke advised the Lonoke-Prairie County Regional Library System to adjust its budget in order to keep open his city’s struggling library. But, with state cuts to community libraries taking effect next year, Ward’s branch will close Dec. 31 if the city cannot come up with additional funding.

“It is easy to close a library. The challenge is to keep it open and operating,” Brooke said during the library system’s board meeting on Tuesday. The mayor said his city cannot afford to pay more.

The Lonoke-Prairie County Regional Library System lost $35,000 this year when legislators balanced the state budget by cutting $1 million in aid to libraries. The regional system has also operated on the same $1 million budget for 20 years, even as costs have increased.

Last month, Brooke requested the library board’s minutes from the regular and special meetings held over the last four years, the annual budgets for the library system for the last four years and the salaries paid by the Lonoke County Library System broken down into each library. The library system is working to fill Brooke’s request for a copy of all checks written the past four years.

“I have found lots of money. You’re not going to like my ideas. One was to close the Cabot library. That didn’t go over too good. You’re not going to do that, and I know that,” Brooke said.

He continued, “I’m looking for money to keep our library open. I’m not out to cause anyone problems. I want money so we can stay online. I told you that in the last meeting, and that hasn’t changed.

“I’ve found your total cut in budget was the $30,000 that was reported. Divide that by the five libraries, and they ought to come up with $6,000. We want to keep these libraries open to the best of our abilities. I looked through our funding to see what (the city of Ward) can do to be a contributor, also,” Brooke continued.

He said he spoke with the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District program manager Leigh Ann Pool earlier in the day. Brooke said Pool is going to try to find if there are any grants available. He asked that the grant be designated for Ward.

Brooke also said he spoke with state Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) about General Improvement Funds through the Arkansas Department of Rural Services. He said Farrer has agreed to give money that would help keep the library open.

“We have some promises of some money,” Brooke said.

The city will look at its budget for 2016. Brooke has been told it costs $62,000 a year to run the Ward library with $17,000 of that coming from the city’s budget.

The city maintains the building, covers the insurance premiums and pays the utility bills.

Brooke has said in the past that some options being considered are having the library open just three or four days a week and having two part-time people working.

Many Ward residents do not want to see the library close. Last week, a petition was started at the library to save it from closing, and 18 people had signed the petition.

Since the prospect of closing was announced, one Ward library clerk resigned to be substitute clerk at the Cabot library. Another had to take a second job at Walmart and is working fewer hours at the library. It forced the Ward library to be closed from noon to 1 p.m. for lunch.

For the first half of 2015, the Ward library had 2,344 visitors. It had 8,243 items checked out. Computers were used 396 times.

“I hope it stays open,” Ward librarian Venessa Ford said.

Ward library patron Karan Kordsmeier said she likes the Ward library because the staff is friendly and strives to help.

“When I first found out it was closing, I was upset. It is something you never thought you would lose. It is local and family orientated. The Cabot library is a huge jumble. It was hard to tell what the books were, and I didn’t have the time to look at every book,” Kordsmeier said.

She said, with a smaller library, it is easier to keep track of her children. It makes her feels safer.

“If they are having problems, why are they building a new library in Cabot? They could use that money on the old (Cabot) building to keep this one open,” Kordsmeier stated.

Cabot’s new library, though, is being paid for with a city sales tax, not with additional funding from the library system.

“It is unfair to take away the only library that Ward residents have. It is within walking distance for many. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can’t get to the library in Cabot or Beebe. It adds to the cost of gas money to drive 15 to 20 minutes instead of two minutes. Taxi fares are expensive,” Kordsmeier said.

“The library is a place to go when it is too hot to be outside,” she added.

Her son, Patrick, who is 10, said, “I like their books and the activities they have here.”

“I’m pretty sure, if there was a 1-percent tax increase in Ward for the library, a lot of people would vote yes to that,” Kordsmeier said.

“If Cabot residents can do it for a new building, Ward residents could do it to keep a library open,” she continued.

Lonoke-Prairie County Regional Library System director Deborah Moore told The Leader on Wednesday that the board came up with ways to cut expenses.

• One was to close the Ward library.

• The second was to break up the single two-county library system, which was formed 25 years ago.

• The third was to accept Cabot’s donation of $155,000 for three full-time library employees’ salaries.

The city funds the Cabot library to buy books, materials and operation costs with 0.7 mills earmarked by the city council. The $155,000 came from that funding.

• The fourth was to combine the Carlisle and Lonoke branch manager positions and have one coordinator for both libraries based in Lonoke.

• The fifth was to implement a hiring freeze next year, unless filling a vacancy, and offer no salary or cost-of-living increases either.