No New Crozet Library? How about No Crozet Library?

Crozet staff: Rhonda Johnson, Pamela Grammer, Anna Bainbridge and Wendy Saz, branch manager.
Crozet staff: Rhonda Johnson, Pamela Grammer, Anna Bainbridge and Wendy Saz, branch manager.

Crozet Library will close this summer, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library leaders insisted at a press conference Jan. 19, if Albemarle County follows through on a possible 10 percent cut in its contribution to J-MRL’s budget. Scottsville Library will be closed if the county cuts its payment by 5 percent. Translated into dollars, those percentages mean a cut of roughly $159,000 would be enough to close Scottsville’s library and a cut of $317,000 would ensure the same fate for Crozet.

J-MRL just finished its busiest year ever, with usage up 11 percent since the recession began,  according to Anthony Townsend, president of the library’s board of trustees. System-wide, last year it had more than 1.2 million visitors, circulated 1.6 million books and more than 170,000 people used library computers, reflecting the trend that requires job and college applications to be filled out online. Library use in our area is 19 percent higher than in similar communities across the country, Townsend said. At Crozet, nearly 132,000 books circulated. Crozet librarian Wendy Saz noted that circulation rose by 12.5 percent last summer.

As is customary, library officials submitted their 2010 budget proposal, essentially a status-quo plan, to their constituent jurisdictions–Charlottesville and Albemarle, Greene, Nelson and Louisa Counties—in November. Only Albemarle has said they may not meet their share of the budget. Albemarle responded to the plan by saying that no pay raises would be considered and requested budgets that reflect 5 and 10 percent cuts.

When told the effect of those cuts, county officials told the library to come up with plan to reduce system-wide operating hours to the state’s required 40-hours-per-week minimum, Townsend said.

“Forty hours per week of library service is less than that supported by the poorest counties in Virginia,” he pointed out archly. Albemarle’s support for libraries is $33.74 per capita, lower than the state average of $35.25. Because Albemarle does not have a history of building libraries—its busiest branch, Northside, has been in rented space for 20 years (this year at a cost of nearly $270,000)—a true comparison with other counties reduces Albemarle’s per capita spending average to $31, Townsend contended. Staunton and Waynesboro spend $40 per resident.

Crozet Library
Crozet Library

Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker later pointed out that Albemarle has increased its contribution to J-MRL by $654,000 over the last five years, from $2.52 million to $3.17 million. Albemarle provided 58 percent of J-MRL’s budget last year. Meanwhile the county’s revenues are projected to shrink by 8 percent over last year and 13 percent over the last two years, possibly forcing cuts in core services such as law enforcement. Tucker urged the library to spread the effect of the cuts across the system. “The county would not support the closure of any branches,” he said.

J-MRL library director John Halliday said the J-MRL funding formula is fair and compared the situation to roommates sharing a house. One roommate wants to hold back part of his share of the costs while the rest continue pay all they owe. Because Charlottesville and Albemarle share expenses for the Central Library, the Gordon Avenue and Northside branches and the bookmobile, and Charlottesville is making its payment, J-MRL officials don’t believe it is fair to cut those operations. If cuts are limited to affecting only Albemarle, the harm can fall only on Scottsville and Crozet.

“Albemarle should not be dictating to the other jurisdictions,” Townsend said. “We won’t say to Nelson or Louisa or Charlottesville that we are cutting their services because Albemarle cut its funding.”

Library trustees said that Albemarle’s cuts would also trigger cuts in state contributions because its cuts would violate state eligibility requirements about “maintenance of effort.” Thus other parties in the J-MRL would suffer. State money is what buys new books and DVDs. Library salaries range between $20,000 and $40,000 per year, Halliday said. “We’re not getting applications for open positions because the salaries are so low.”

“Albemarle citizens must speak up if they wish to save their public library services,” Townsend said.

The press conference was the first ever in the 40-year existence of the J-MRL. Asked if it amounted to scare tactics, Townsend retorted, “We say, we’re calling your bluff.” He reiterated that the Scottsville and Crozet branches will be closed if 5 and 10 percents cuts come to pass.

Halliday said that the J-MRL leaders “do not like it” that funding for a new Crozet library has been deferred until 2017. “The county is using capital funds to cover operating expenses. We think it’s shortsighted,” said Townsend.

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