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Library director explains cutbacks

Flint Public Library Director Kay Schwartz was the featured speaker at the East Side Business Association meeting June 15. She provided a financial history of the library and explained recent cuts the board made when faced with falling revenues.

"The library is funded by going to voters with millage appeals," Schwartz said.

Voters last year agreed to renew the library's 0.9-mill operating tax and a 0.5-mill increase. But that won't be collected until July 2012. That leaves a big hole in this year's budget, said Schwartz.

The millage, based on plummeting residential and commercial property values, was about $1 million less in the last three years. This caused a 30 percent staff reduction and reduced hours. The latest cost savings measure coming in July will be to close all three of its branch libraries. That should save about $150,000, she said.

According to Schwartz, all three branchs are in rented buildings. The landlords have been notified and the collections will be merged with the Main Library's when appropriate.

"The real blow to our budget came with tax revenues from commercial properties — when GM settled their tax issue at the Van Slyke plant. That property was valued at $82 million — in appeal they settled for $20 million — a 74 percent decrease. And other commercial properties are also appealing — some asking for a 50 percent reduction," Schwartz said.

"We must achieve a balanced budget," Schwartz continued. "We cannot become like the federal government. We've got to live within our means."

Ideas for achieving a balanced budget include a fund development program, a vigorous grant writing initiative and fundraisers.

"I'm looking at raising about $200,000 with the addition of a director of fund development position," Schwartz said.

Volunteers at Friends of the Library raise between $15,000 to $18,000 a year, she added.

Asked whether consolidating the county library with the city's library would bring about additional cost savings, Schwartz said, "There might be a couple of duplicate positions that could be eliminated, but I don't see a consolidation saving a lot of money at this point.

"Would people in the out-county vote to raise taxes on themselves to help the city's library?" Schwartz asked.

Statistics show that about 30 percent of Flint library cardholders are from outside of Flint.

Effects of digital libraries were discussed.

"We have a collection of books for nooks (electronic reading devices)," Schwartz said. "You can download e-books free today. We're building our electronic collection and will soon service Kindles. When we purchase a best-seller we buy it in many formats — hardcover, audio on CD and now digital."

"We have a huge challenge before us. I'm looking at ways to stay open for six days. We've learned how to do a lot with a little," Schwartz concluded.

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