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Library Board recommends re-opening Westtown

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County Library Board voted Monday afternoon at a special called meeting to recommend that the County Commission re-open the Westtown Library Branch for a full 40-hour week.

If approved by the commission, the move would add an estimated $150,746 to the library system's yearly budget.

"Both of these (closed) branches (Southside being the other) are vital to their communities," board member James Hill said. "But we have been tasked with making a recommendation (on one or the other). I therefore offer a motion that we recommend that the Westtown branch be open full-time."

Part of the discussion that followed focused on the possibility of splitting the funding and opening both branches half-time. Board chairman Walter Kelley suggested staffing might be more difficult if both branches were opened, and Hill and fellow board member Brenda Hodges-Tiller suggested such a recommendation would jeopardize re-opening either branch.

"Staff is already stretched," Hodges-Tiller said. "I think we should discuss and possibly study opening both branches, but at this time the most concern I've heard expressed is for the Westtown branch."

Board member John Hayes, who also serves on the County Commission and its Finance Committee, said the fact that the county is willing to entertain discussion of re-opening one of the two library branches closed at the end of 2012 as an austerity measure is a plus for the system.

"The fact that this door is open is a positive," he said. "From the beginning, this has been a matter of dollars and cents. I don't think the Finance Committee will be surprised if we vote to ask for full-time funding, but I think we should be prepared to compromise and we should also be prepared to discuss the logistics of getting the branch re-opened, of moving the furniture and the books."

Interim Library Director Mike Dugan said he'd be surprised if the process took less than seven months to completely incorporate.

"You've got to get the books back in place, you've got to get the dataline in place -- that's a state thing, and they're as slow as Christmas -- and it will take a minimum of two months just to train staff," Dugan said. "We could get this done sooner, but I'm trying to give you a realistic estimate."

At the suggestion of the full board, Dugan had worked up estimates on re-opening one of the two branches for 16 hours a week, 30 hours or 40 hours. The short period, according to Dugan's estimate, would come with a price tag of $68,833; the 30-hour week would cost $124,692, and the full week would cost the county $150,746.

"I want it to be clear that I did not make a recommendation; I simply came up with three options for the board to consider," the interim director said. "I will say, though, if you split the time up and try to open both branches for 20 hours a week, we will have staffing issues. All it would take is for two people to call in sick at the same time, and we don't have an adequate pool of replacements we could call in."

Kelley and Dugan are expected to meet with the County Commission's Finance Committee to discuss the Library Board's recommendation Friday morning.