Library Board omits requested upgrade in next year's budget

If the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries' revised preliminary budget of $8,158,389 for next fiscal year gets final approval, the following cuts from the administration's original request will include:

$280,000 for the first phase of a proposed three-year, $1 million upgrade to the system's main branch, the 8-year-old Columbus Public Library, which was a $50.4 million project funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

$32,000 for the Building Common Ground lecture series.

$15,000 for a staff evaluation plan.

Ironically, the Muscogee County Library Board unanimously approved the revised preliminary budget Thursday -- the same day StoryCorps founder Dave Isay was scheduled to be the first speaker in this year's Building Common Ground series.

Those cuts come from the board's finance committee rejecting last week's original draft. Library system director Claudya Muller and chief financial officer Lyn Anderson axed the original request to use $921,485 from the projected $3,254,230 reserve. Now, they are calling for $560,610 from the reserve. That's only $3,359 more than this year's budget uses.

All of which would leave an increase of only 1.1 percent in the revised preliminary budget compared to this year's budget. The original request was a 9.5 percent increase.

The budget must be finalized at the library board's May meeting in time for ultimate approval in June from the Muscogee County School Board, which owns and operates the county's public libraries.

So on her final day as the director, the retiring Muller capped her more than 11 years leading the library system with another calm yet passionate plea for funding.

"We're way past (cutting) muscle," she told the board. "When we sat down to make the cuts, I'd just as soon open up a vein."

After the meeting, Muller noted the glaring needs in the proposed upgrade to the Columbus Public Library are the carpeting and furniture, especially in the Aflac Children's Room.

"We shampoo those carpets, and we shampoo that upholstery, but when you do it four and five times a year, the more the fabric wears the easier the next stain adheres," she said. "I worked for a library system once where they replaced the carpet when 50 percent of it was duct tape. I would hate to see that happen here."

Muller compared the maintenance of a library to a home: "When you delay work, there is more needed and it costs more."

But she remained hopeful, even as she left her position.

"I think the board will continue to adjust this budget," Muller said. "I don't think this is the final version. There are board members who will balance and look at all the things that need to be done. I'm confident that some work will be done in the next fiscal year."

Muller emphasized last week's finance committee had only two of the seven members present. One of those members is Frank Star.

"Speaking for myself," Star said, "and I can't speak for other members of the committee, but we will scrutinize the proposed budget and work with the director and Lyn, and we're going to have to make some hard choices. We just don't have the money, and some programs may suffer, upkeep of the physical building may suffer, services, programs, but we don't have any other source of income."

The state already cut its local library allotment 3 percent for the second straight year, Muller said, but she doesn't expect any of the cuts to force fewer operating hours.

Muller laughed and said, "If somebody would like to write a $280,000 check, we'd be happy to take it."ONLINE ONLY

Click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com for a cost breakdown of the proposed upgrade to the Columbus Public Library, which has been cut out of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries' revised preliminary budget.

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