URRLS board discusses state funding at quarterly meeting

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By Nick Nunn, Staff Writer

During the August meeting of the Uncle Remus Regional Library System (URRLS) board, members discussed the current state funding formula and how the state may decide how much funding libraries are to receive in the future.

URRLS Director Steve Schaefer stated during the meeting that the current formula that dictates how much state funding is received by libraries has become “convoluted” because of budget cuts.

Although no new system for funding has yet been put in place, Schaefer predicted that future state funding will be distributed based on how well libraries are able to live up to set operating standards, which may include how well libraries post public information on their websites, such as meeting minutes as well as budget and audit histories.

“It’s available,” said Schaefer about the current state of URRLS information. “It’s on the website.”

Should the state decide to utilize a performance-based system for funding distribution, Schaefer said that he would be “enthusiastic” about the URRLS’ ability to meet and exceed standards.

The board also looked over the June 2013 financial report, which marked the end of the 2013 fiscal year.

For the fiscal year 2013, the Regional Fund for the URRLS had a net surplus of more than $16,000, while the Morgan County Fund earned a net surplus of over $2,000.

Schaefer noted that both the Jasper and Hancock County libraries, which had been operating only during three and two days of the week, respectively, are now operating seven days a week.

During the meeting, the board approved their 2014 fiscal year budget, which includes a budget of more than $249,000 for Morgan County.

For July, the first month of the 2014 fiscal year, the URRLS Regional Fund created a deficit of more than $9,000 while Morgan County was able to gain a net surplus of slightly more than $66 during the first month.

However, Schaefer noted that the first month’s numbers have little to do with the way the full year will play out, saying that it is not worth, “wringing your hands about.”

The URRLS has also almost completed converting their internet service provider from a program sponsored by the Georgia Public Library System (GPLS) to internet service from Level 3 Communications, which will be controlled by the URRLS.

In addition to increased internet speed at URRLS locations, there will also be the benefit of having URRLS control internet restrictions instead of the state. Before the conversion, the URRLS would have to ask the GPLS to allow each and every website that seemed suspect – including some websites about breast cancer – a process that could take weeks.

Now, Schaefer will be able to approve individual website access on the spot to websites that, at first, might seem suspect to a filter system.

Schaefer joked that control of website access would now make him “the gatekeeper of porn.”

Schaefer announced that the URRLS will soon be offering free movie downloads in addition to the currently offered music and e-book downloads. The movie download service, which is slated to begin in the fall, will allow users to download up to three movies from an available selection.

The board also discussed the B4 program, a proposed early literacy initiative by the GPLS that would focus on literacy skills for children from birth to the age of four.

While Schaefer acknowledged that this program would be worth the efforts of the GPLS if there were currently enough funding by the state, he stated that this is not the case, and that the state should first return more funding for the purpose of purchasing books.

“We have lost millions of dollars to books,” said Schaefer. “I want [funding] to go to books and to support.”

Stating his opposition to the program, Schaefer noted that the Ferst Foundation already serves the purpose of developing childhood literacy in many counties in Georgia.

Schaefer also encouraged the URRLS board members to contact their legislators and voice their dissent.

The B4 program will be among the issues discussed at the Public Library Director’s Meeting on Sept. 12-13 in Augusta.

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