MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — With the deadline for the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library board to make a decision on how to implement upcoming funding cuts fast approaching, recent public hearings have helped guide decisions.
The library recently hosted five public hearings, one at each library branch, to hear residents’ opinions on how the library should implement its funding cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. The library is making the cuts because its Berkeley County Schools’ funding was reduced by $522,500 as a result of reduced funding through the schools’ excess levy.
The $522,250 funding cuts represents a third of the library’s total funding.
According to Kelly Tanksley, director of development for the library, public opinions varied significantly as to which areas should be deemed critical and which should be reduced.
“Public opinion was all over. The scenario that was the most liked by the most amount of people in the public hearing was a combination of scenario three, which is about a third reduction (of all categories). The courier system is the one system that will continue, unequivocally without a doubt, since it’s well-liked and well-used,” she said.
The scenario favored the most by residents is the scenario that includes an average one-third reduction in all areas, including a general outline of reducing operational hours at all branches eliminating 18 out of 32 part-time positions, reducing four full-time positions with two positions becoming part-time and two positions not being retained and reducing collection purchases by 33 percent.
The funding cuts will be enacted at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, which will be the first day the library will operate with one-third less than its traditional budget. However, some cuts have already been voted on by the library board and will be put into action early to allow patrons time to become accustomed the the changes.
Beginning in early June, the library will be cutting back its hours at all branches. The main Martinsburg branch will reduce its hours from 64 to 44 and all other branches will cut back from 44 to 32. Additionally, no branch will be open before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
“I know for a fact we will not have a library open in Berkeley County on Sunday. We had two, we will now have none. That’s the reality,” Tanksley said.
“We are required by law in the state of West Virginia, at the main branch to be open a minimum of 44 hours. We have to have a combination of evening hours and weekend hours, but that only calls for six hours, and it doesn’t take long to get there,” she said.
The library board will be voting on its final budget and reduction measures at its May 28 meeting, including eliminating personnel or transitioning full-time employees to part-time.
“It’s kind of a slow process because we care about these employees. A lot of them have been with us for many years. We want to make sure we do the right thing with them, we work with their options,” Tanksley said.
While dealing with the realities of reduced funding, Tanksley said the board is still searching for funding options, including potentially being sponsored for a levy in May 2016. The library can be sponsored by Berkeley County Schools, the City of Martinsburg or Berkeley County.
“If we get our funding reinstated, there’s the opportunity and the potential for us to really move in a direction I think the community will love,” she said.
Some of the opportunities Tanksley described included building a new library in the north end of the county once the project is fiscally responsible, potentially increasing services in Gerrardstown, creating a bookmobile and increasing programming.
A new initiative the library will be enacting is forming a volunteer advocate group to help educate the public about the library if it is placed on a levy in order to be transparent to the public about how levy funding would be used.
“The advocates will be our grassroots for any and all future library levy funding source opportunities. That’s important because people get upset and they want to be part of it and have a voice,” she said.
– Staff writer Samantha Cronk can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com.scronkJN.