Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 | 3:11 p.m.
Cuts keep coming in the Henderson Library District — and the end result likely won’t please anyone.
Thursday morning the Henderson Library District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to close all six branches on Mondays, meaning Henderson libraries will be closed Sundays and Mondays beginning this fall.
This is at least the third time in four years the district has reduced library operating hours.
Each library will stay open for an extra hour at the end of the day on Fridays and Saturdays as a result of the change, while closing an extra day per week will allow the library district to better manage its dwindling staff, district officials said.
In November Henderson residents will vote on a tax initiative that the district says is needed to keep the libraries operating at current levels. If the tax initiative fails, both the Malcolm and Galleria branches are expected to close and other reductions could come as well.
Thomas Fay, Henderson Library District executive director, said staffing was down from a peak of 132 employees to 92 today. As a result, the staff is spread thin with librarians being shifted from branch to branch each day to cover for sick and personal leave. Because Malcolm and Galleria are on the chopping block, staff at those branches have begun transferring into openings at the other, more stable, branches.
“As we have backfilled some positions and left the spots at Galleria and Malcolm open because they could be so short-term, that’s left practically no one to run Malcolm and Galleria,” Fay said.
The majority of the district’s roughly $7 million budget comes from property taxes. As property values in Henderson have declined during the past four years, funding for the district has dropped from its prerecession budget of nearly $10 million. While the Henderson Library District shares its boundaries with the city of Henderson, the district is independent and is not part of the city’s budget.
Fay said a rough estimate of the savings from the Monday closures would be $50,000 to $75,000 annually, but more important than the modest financial savings, the move gives the staff the flexibility it needs to provide patrons quality service. The board agreed the proposal struck the best balance between serving the community and managing available resources.
“The two most important things are patron services and staff morale,” said Sean Fellows, the board’s vice chair. “I think adding the hour on Friday and Saturday is good for the patrons, and most importantly we make sure the staff has the time to deal with the daily issues they have as professionals but also as residents of this community.”
Circulation at the six libraries for fiscal year 2012 is nearly the same as the previous year, and e-book circulation is up 300 percent over 2011.
The tax initiative, which is designed to maintain services and is explicitly not to be used to increase staffing, salaries or benefits, would increase taxes for homeowners in Henderson by 2 cents per $100 in assessed property value, a $14 annual hike for property worth $200,000. Without the added funding, Fay said 15 positions would be cut and in addition to Malcolm and Galleria, the Heritage Park branch may close as well.
“Either you believe libraries make communities better or you don’t,” Fay said. “Most rational people realize this is a nonpartisan issue.”
Even if the tax initiative passes, the increased property tax won’t be assessed until July 1, 2013. Then, Fay said, it would take another few months for the increased funding to arrive.
As it stands now, the district is expected to spend $300,000 of its $2 million in reserves in the next year if the initiative passes, and $100,000 if it fails. That difference comes from the overall saving of completely shuttering two branches and laying off staff if the tax is not approved.
Rather than mothballing branches with the hopes of reopening them later, Fay said the district preferred to keep services as consistent and stable as possible.
A political action committee and marketing campaign in support of the tax initiative, called Question 1 on the ballot, have launched in recent months. Tax increases for the library district that made to the ballot in 2001 and 2002 were rejected, but those proposals were meant to fund expansion.
“People will say that this was some election tactic, but win or lose this is what the library hours will look like a year from now,” Fay said. “Even if we win, we won’t know what the revenues will look like for a while.”
Fay added library officials chose Monday because of the potential utility and staff savings from being able to close for a full 48 hours, and because the staff believed that would have the least impact on patrons. If the libraries had closed on Saturdays, Fay said, many adult and children’s programs would have been affected.
The changes will take effect in October for most of the branches, but the Galleria and Malcolm libraries will close on Mondays starting Sept. 1.