Now As In 2007;
Cuts Are Proposed
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
With more than a century of history, the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library has no shortage of advocates -- and perhaps none more devoted than Director Don Miller.
Miller has worked with the library since 2000, and was named director in 2009. As director, he also oversees the T. Elmer Cox Historical & Genealogical Library, also on North Main Street.
The library is officially a joint function of Greene County and the Town of Greeneville, and receives a budget allocation from both governments for operational expenses.
During the 13 years since 2000, Miller said he and his six employees -- two of whom are part-time -- have seen only one cost-of-living increase. That was in 2004.
Then, in 2007, the library received a $5,000 increase in the local fund allocation -- $2,500 from Greene County and a $2,500 match from the Town of Greeneville
As always, the town and county funds were designated for operational expenses.
Since that time, the annual local allocations have remained unchanged: Greeneville and Greene County each provide $84,500 to the library for operations in their respective annual budgets.
In addition to the annual allocations for operational expenses, the Town of Greeneville and Greene County did split $60,000 in a onetime capital expenditure in 2011 to repair the library's roof, Miller pointed out.
But the costs involved in actually operating the library day to day and month to month long ago exceeded local allocations for library operating expenses that have not increased since 2007, according to Miller.
"To make up the shortfall [between the total local allocations and thelibrary's actual operating expenses], we just try to come up with the money any way we can," he said, pointing to fundraising by private citizens supportive of the library, sales, donations and user fees.
It's not always an easy task when that "shortfall" for operations alone averages between $60,000 and $80,000 each year, he added.
100-YEAR JOINT VENTURE
The library has been a joint venture between Greeneville and Greene County since it became a public institution exactly 100 years ago.
Traditionally, Greene County sets its annual allocation and Greeneville, as the fiscal agent for the library, matches what the county allocates.
This year, however, the Greene County Commission is facing a large anticipated deficit in the County General Fund and is struggling to find a way to cover it.
Discussions on that subject by the Commission are continuing, but it is nearly a month into the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and the Commission probably won't set a budget until sometime in August.
Rather than waiting to see what the county will allocate in this difficult financial year, the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen chose in June to budget for 2013-2014 the same amount of money that both county and city have allocated in recent years -- $84,500.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen took that action despite word from the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee that they will likely recommend across-the-board cuts in all county government operations, including the library, in order to avoid a county budget deficit.
Those cuts in the various aspects of county government are expected to be between 6 and 8 percent, according to recent discussions in the County Budget & Finance Committee meetings.
Of the nonprofit organizations on the county's annual contribution/allocation list, the committee has only recommended sparing four from being dropped entirely. The four are:
* the Greene County Emergency Communications District (911);
* the Greene County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments;
* the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad; and,
* the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library.
County Mayor Alan Broyles said in a recent telephone interview that the committee does not intend to apply the percentage cuts to the emergency services, but that the committee does intend to apply the percentage cut to the library.
This could mean between $6,500 and $8,500 cut from the county's allocation to the library.
"Nobody's ever denied that our public library plays a vital role in our community," Broyles said. "We know the importance of the library.
"The Budget & Finance Committee members have never said anything about cutting the library's funding totally.
"I think there's a misconception out there that's got some people scared that the Budget & Finance Committee has suggested that the library be cut totally.
"The only thing that the Budget & Finance Committee is striving to do is keep the cuts as fair as possible across the board."
MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT
Discussion of cuts to library funding has caused quite a bit of turmoil in the community, however, because of a "maintenance-of-effort" clause in the Tennessee Code Annotated (state law).
A "maintenance-of-effort" (MOE) requirement generally states that local government may not decrease funding from what it was the prior year.
T.C.A. §10-5-101 requires that the county maintain at least the same level of funding as the prior year or run the risk of numerous actions that Secretary of State Tre Hargett would have the legal right to take.
Though the county has, according to Broyles, requested a one-year waiver to make temporary cuts that are not targeting only the library, any cut at all will be painful, the library director said.
"Given the fact that we're badly underfunded anyway, we would feel it," he said.
Miller said such a cut would also not be a "fair" reduction because various county departments have received some increases in the county budget in recent years, while the library has not.
Without across-the-board funding increases, how are across-the-board decreases fair? Miller asked.
The potential consequences of failing to meet the state's maintenance-of-effort requirement are just that -- possibilities, not guarantees.
And Secretary of State Hargett most likely does not enjoy shutting down libraries by making sweeping cuts in state support, Miller emphasized.
However, he added, Hargett also has to weigh the risk of being lenient in one situation and, as a result, watching libraries "fall like dominoes" -- in other words, lose local funding as an expense-cutting measure.
Under the law, failing to meet the MOE requirement could disqualify the library from participation in the state's multi-county regional library program.
Greeneville and Greene County's library has participated in such a consortium of libraries since the 1950s, reaping such benefits as inter-library book loans and discounted access to the library catalogue.
Failure to comply with the MOE could also cause the library to lose regional technical support -- a value that Miller said he doesn't even know how to begin to price.
Moreover, the state would have the right to remove the entire collection of materials in the library that have been purchased using state funds.
Miller said the state grants the library an annual $80,000 to $90,000 -- money that could also disappear if the county did not meet the maintenance-of-effort requirement.
The library currently has about 57,000 items. About 28,000 of those items were purchased with state funds and could potentially disappear from the shelves, he said.
There are approximately another 500 items from state funds at the T. Elmer Cox Genealogical Library, which is an extension of the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library.
The Cox library does not receive any additional local revenue.
"I can't imagine that we would ever be able to recover those items," Miller said.
'MORE THAN $500,000'
While approximately 50 percent of the books in the library are purchased with state funds, the remainder are bought with donations and some unrestricted funds, he said.
Greeneville and Greene County's local allocations are only for operations -- utilities, salaries, basic operating materials, etc. -- and cannot begin to provide enough for the purchase of books, magazines, videos, etc., Miller explained.
Add to that the possibility that, if the maintenance-of-effort requirement is not met, the county could lose access to the state's Regional eBook & Audiobook Download System (R.E.A.D.S.).
Also at risk would be technology grants that provide a 50-50 match for the purchase of technology -- such as the computers that provide public Internet access, one of the most popular features of the library.
"You're looking at much more than half-a-million dollars [in services at risk of being lost]," Miller said.
"The numbers so obviously indicate the importance of that funding that I think it would be insane to talk about losing it."