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"Countdown to shutdown" is the catchy phrase coined for a difficult situation for four northwest Georgia libraries.
Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library System that has branches in Rossville, Chickamauga, LaFayette and Trenton, came up with the slogan to sum up the library system's troubled financial footing.
Increased costs and funding cuts likely will force library officials in six months to pick a branch to eventually shut down to keep the system afloat, Eubanks said.
"It's not good news," she said. "It's what I've been calling the 'countdown to shutdown.'"
Eubanks declined to single out one branch.
"There are two libraries that are in the most dire straits," she said. "The Rossville library and the Dade County Library."
While Walker County has three libraries, the Trenton branch is Dade County's only library.
"We certainly don't want [Dade] to be the only county in Georgia without a public library," Eubanks said.
The Dade County Library also is in a newly renovated building, while the Rossville branch is an older building.
The library's governing board will decide in January whether to shutter a branch, Eubanks said. The closure would occur some months later.
"That still leaves some time for some local funding to raise its head," she said.
LIBRARY HOURS CUT
In the short term, the library's board voted Monday to further cut hours starting on Aug. 5 at three branches and dip into reserves to pay for operations.
The LaFayette and Rossville branches will be reduced to 28 hours each week, and Trenton will be open 27 hours.
Only Chickamauga will remain at 30 hours.
The city of Chickamauga recently boosted funding for its library from $39,000 to $46,000, Eubanks said.
"For the size city they are, that's a big amount," she said.
The four libraries' 30-hour-a-week schedule was adopted only a year ago as a cost-cutting measure. Three people lost their jobs then, three lost their benefits and nine had their hours reduced.
"I think we're at our limit at how many hours we can reduce at this point," Eubanks said.
Branch libraries are dipping into reserves to stay afloat. For example, the Dade County Library is running at a $25,000 deficit, Eubanks said, but it has $42,000 in savings it's tapping.
"We've got a plan to get us through this fiscal year," she said of the library's budget year that began July 1.
Dade County board Chairman Ted Rumley said Dade is in the middle of its budget-setting process and has boosted its funding to the Cherokee Regional Library System.
"We've increased it a couple thousand, maybe $3,000, this year," Rumley said. "We're going to try to help them all we can."
Rumley said the Dade County Commission won't let the library in Trenton close, even if the Cherokee Regional Library System decides to pull out.
"We'll take it over ourselves, if we have to," he said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.