Westtown Library is one of two closed because of budget constraints. Dougherty County officials are considering whether to reopen it or Southside Library in the new budget year,
ALBANY, Ga. -- As the deadline for finalizing the county government's Fiscal Year 2014 budget creeps nearer, a new/old issue has surfaced that will impact the final document: the reopening of one of two county library branches closed as an austerity measure by the county's Library Board at the end of 2012.
During budget discussions with the Dougherty County Commission's Finance Committee Wednesday morning, County Administrator Richard Crowdis notified the committee that the Library Board had submitted with its budget request options that would allow for the reopening of either the Westtown or Southside branch.
According to Crowdis, library officials' options include a $70,000 plan to keep one of the branches open 16 hours a week, $150,000 to keep a branch open 30 hours and around $177,000 to open either branch for 40 hours. Crowdis said ancillary costs would be minimal since furniture and books that would be placed in either branch are currently in storage at county facilities.
Committee members expressed concern at the way the options were presented by library officials.
"I don't think it falls on us to make that decision," Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins said. "The proper procedure would be for them to recommend an option. Speaking for myself, I'd rather see the Library Board come to us and say, 'We recommend opening Library A for X number of hours a week.'"
Library Board Chairman Walter Kelley, who was in Macon on business Wednesday, said he was confident the board could and would make such a recommendation.
"We'd be glad to do that at any time (the committee) suggests," Kelley said. "But the bottom line is, this falls squarely on (the county commission). They're the ones who will make a decision on funding. If we do make such a recommendation, though, we've got to be sure and pick the right one from Door A, Door B or Door C. If we pick the wrong one, (reopening) will not be financed."
County Commissioner John Hayes, who serves on both the Finance Committee and the Library Board, said discussion of possibly reopening one of the two branches is encouraging.
"Frankly, when you have to choose between one of two facilities like this, it becomes something of a roll of the dice," Hayes said. "Westtown is in the thick of that community, so I would think it gets more visits. But the branch on Oakridge (Southside) is located in the part of the community hardest hit by the economy. I think the Library Board will need to consider all these factors.
"I find it encouraging that the needs of the community are being considered. When I talk with young people about our government, I tell them that the true power belongs to the people. When people rightfully demand a service and they see their demands being considered, that's democracy at work."