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Money on the books: Jackson libraries request increased funding

Jackson County Librarian Tracy Fitzmaurice recently pitched her first proposal for library funding before county commissioners. She asked for a bit of a jump in the their financial commitment. 

“I feel good about it,” Fitzmaurice said. 

Public libraries in Jackson County are part of the Fontana Regional Library System. The facilities — one in Sylva and another in Cashiers, as well as a portion of a mobile book unit — rely on various funding sources, but most of the needed money comes from the county.  Last year, Jackson County funded the libraries to the tune of $919,000. For the next fiscal year, Fitzmaurice has requested a bit over a $1 million.

The proposed budget presented by the librarian lists increased costs for various expenses. There’s a jump of nearly $7,000 for equipment maintenance, and an additional $2,500 for audiovisuals. An increase of $32,000 is being requested for salaries, upping that total from about $592,000 to $624,000. 

Fitzmaurice identifies the biggest need as money for an 18 percent uptick in employee health insurance costs. 

“Which is almost a $1,000 increase per employee,” Fitzmaurice said. “That was a big jump.” 

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One expenditure on which the proposal suggests spending nearly $36,000 less on is books. Conversely, the proposed e-book budget is  $3,000 larger. Those requests apparently reflect library patrons’ interests, with more people reportedly requesting electronic books. 

Fitzmaurice points out that while e-books lack the tangible presence of their traditional counterparts, the price tags are actually higher per title. 

“They’re less affordable to buy, far less,” the librarian explained. “No, it does not make sense. It’s a publishing issue.”

Fitzmaurice said that the relatively new media, while popular, has proven at times difficult. 

“Every publisher is different,” she said. “It’s a whole new world out there.”

The librarian has found that “some publishers play well with libraries,” and others do not. 

“They don’t want libraries to check out e-books, they make it very difficult,” Fitzmaurice said. “Harper Collins will only let me buy a book and circulate it 26 times and then it disappears.”

Jackson commissioners will be considering the libraries budget request, along with a myriad of other funding requests, later this month. If the funds aren’t available, Fitzmaurice said, the library budget will have to be looked at with narrowed eyes.

“We’ll look at hours we are open. It would mean reviewing staffing and seeing where we could cut down, which would mean people losing hours,” she said. “We would first look to see where we could cut books. But, then of course, you’re offering the public less and less.”

For now, Fitzmaurice is waiting for the commissioners’ response. They will consider the county’s budget in June. 

“It’s always sort of hold your breath and see,” she said, “and then do the best with what you get.”

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