The Sylva and Cashiers libraries asked the county for a budget increase of $132,000 for the coming fiscal year, primarily to give library staff a 13 percent pay raise. The preliminary Jackson County budget awards the library only $14,000 — enough to fund 2 percent raises for library workers. That’s the same cost-of-living raise the rest of Jackson County employees will see.
But unlike the rest of Jackson County employees, library staff haven’t seen a raise in five years. So now, they need a bigger bump to catch up to where they should be, according to Dottie Brunette, the head Jackson County librarian.
Libraries are a vital community service, enriching the quality of life for all residents, leading to a more educated and enlightened society, and spurring economic development, particularly since the Sylva library is actually a destination for visitors, Brunette said.
Several library advocates lined the front row of a public hearing on the Jackson County budget Monday. Brunette also delivered a stack of handwritten letters from library supporters pleading with county commissioners for a bigger budget increase.
“We are once again extremely disappointed that there is no provision for a staff salary increase,” wrote Marilyn Staats, president of the Friends of Albert Carlton Library in Cashiers. “Please help Cashiers and the surrounding communities served by our wonderful library.”
Jo Ann Guise, a library user from Cashiers, said it is “unconscionable” that library staff hasn’t had a raise in five years.
However, County Manager Chuck Wooten countered that it’s up to the library leaders to determine what they want to pay their employees. The county does not manage the library’s budget line for line but instead allocates an overall dollar amount.
“We give them a lump sum of dollars. If they want to give salary increases, they can give salary increases and buy fewer books,” Wooten said.
Brunette said the budget increase wasn’t solely to cover salary increases, however.
The county has given the libraries a sizeable budget increase during the past five years already.
The operating budget for the Cashiers library went from $148,000 to $232,000 since 2009. The Sylva library doubled from $360,000 to $780,000 since 2009.
The huge increase was largely due to the Sylva library moving from its tiny, old, subpar quarters on Main Street to a large, grand, new library behind the historic courthouse.
The bigger library necessitated a larger collection, additional staff and increased overhead. The library expanded its hours and its line-up of adult and children’s programs. The number of library users has roughly doubled since moving to the new building.
So while the budget is much bigger, it was put toward general operations while staff salaries stagnated.
Still, when it comes to where the library wants to put the dollars it gets from the county, library leaders make the decisions.
“We do not designate their funding by line item. If they have a particular priority, they are free to take those dollars and address those priorities,” Wooten said.
Wooten said it is only fair to also take into account the $965,000 the county pays annually toward library construction debt — about two-thirds of that for the Sylva library and one-third for the Cashiers library.
Commissioners have until the end of June to approve their final budget.