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North branch in limbo
Board to air staff, funding options
Library Little Girl 1 es
Teddie Lowe smiles after twirling through metal poles Wednesday at the Cumming Library. - photo by Emily Saunders

As Forsyth County wrestles with a multimillion dollar deficit and explores ways to slim down its government, a new library branch sits silently in north Forsyth.

With new books and DVDs piling up, the Hampton Park Library is scheduled to open in four months. In the meantime, officials are wondering how they’ll pull it off.

Uncertain about the system’s share of the 2010 budget, library board members plan to discuss future options at a meeting Monday.

If the library system’s budget does not increase to open the new building, those options could include spreading current staff among the three branches and cutting operating hours.

“We’re going to lay it on the table and talk about it Monday night,” said Jon McDaniel, the system’s director.

“The facility is ready to go and we’d like to see it open,” he said. “The county’s in a tight spot, and we’re assuming we’ll have to wait our turn for the future to get assistance for operating three [libraries]. We’re expecting to make sacrifices.”

While its construction was funded by the state and a previous 1-cent sales tax, the Hampton Park Library’s operating budget will come chiefly from the county.

McDaniel and other officials asked the commission in June for an increase in the library’s 2010 budget solely to operate the new branch.

The county’s budget estimates, however, have since grown increasingly bleak.

The chief financial officer has projected a 2010 budget deficit of $14 million. Earlier this month, the commission gave the county manager the authority to cut $500,000 in staffed positions to offset the 2009 deficit of $6.2 million.

“It would be difficult for them to give us money to hire new people if they’re laying off existing staff,” McDaniel said. “We understand that. We’re assuming they won’t be able to help us out right now, but maybe they can later, depending on what the economy does.”

Mary Helen McGruder, chairwoman, said any plans the board might make Monday are “only tentative.”

“We are trying to make sure that when we have the final numbers from the board of commissioners, we have a plan in place and can accommodate library patrons to the best of our abilities,” she said.

The library system’s overall budget in 2009 was about $4.1 million. The system also received $458,000 from the state in 2009. State funding for 2010 has not been determined.

County commissioners could adopt a 2010 budget in December.

Library officials have said the new branch is sorely needed. Library visits have increased 19 percent from fiscal year 2008-09, a trend McDaniel has attributed to the poor economy.

The library board meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Cumming branch, 585 Dahlonega Road.