TERRE HAUTE — On Tuesday, Peggy Esau and 5-year-old granddaughter Megan sat side by side as they used computers at the Vigo County Public Library Meadows branch.
Esau, who watches her granddaughter weekdays, lives near the Meadows shopping center and they frequently go to the library there. Her granddaughter likes to check out books, music, games and movies. They also go there for children’s Story Time.
“It’s nice to have these small branches in the different neighborhoods,” Esau said.
But the branches’ future may be in question. On Tuesday, the Vigo County Public Library Board will begin reviewing options as it considers between $500,000 and $750,000 in budget reductions. Its total 2009 operating budget is about $6 million.
Among the options under consideration are closing some, or even all, of the library’s four branches. They are located at Plaza North, Meadows Shopping Center, Southland Plaza and West Terre Haute.
This Tuesday, the seven-member Library Board will conduct a special board meeting at 6 p.m. in the lower level of the main library. Director Nancy Dowell will present several options for the board to discuss, although no action will be taken. There will be no public comment period.
The board will conduct a regular meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 and could begin acting on some cost-reduction measures at that time.
The cuts are necessary to bring the library’s budget in line with less property tax revenue. The library must make a permanent reduction in its expenses. About 90 percent of its revenues come from property taxes.
The budge shortfall has been described as an unintended consequence of House Bill 1001, which changed the state’s property tax system.
To achieve the cost reductions, the board will have to consider some big-ticket items that could include possible branch closings.
In 2008, the four branches cost $1.1 million to operate, a figure that includes rent, utilities, staff salaries and library materials.
It does not include support services from the main library for such things as maintenance, cleaning, business office and payroll.
Projected 2009 expenses for the branches are as follows: North branch, $296,404; South, $305,909; Meadows, $297,922; and West Terre Haute, $206,537.
In 2008, Meadows had the most visitors, with 105,116; North, 81,059; South, 79,964 and West, 41,427 visitors. The main library had 449,880 visitors. Multiple visits by one person are counted separately.
Each branch has a branch manager and clerk, both full-time positions, as well as two part-time employees.
Of the branches, Meadows had the most traffic, but the North branch had the most circulation. Meadows, North and South are close as far as traffic and circulation, Dowell said. “It’s really hard to say that one branch outperforms the others.”
The West branch generates smaller numbers, but Dowell said that reflects the community’s smaller population.
On Tuesday, Dowell will present several options for the board to consider. They are not ranked, nor are they recommendations. They include:
n Keep all four branches open, which would seriously affect the entire library system and require cutbacks in personnel and hours at the main library and branches. “That has huge implications for everyone — for staff and patrons,” Dowell said.
That option would require a “severe” cutback in staffing that in all likelihood would mean curtailing main library hours to one shift, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dowell said.
“I don’t see any way to keep five locations open where we wouldn’t have to severely cut the number of staff,” Dowell said. “We’d almost have to run one shift of staff.”
The library has 98 employees, with 67 full-time and 31 part-time staff.
Other options include:
n Consider closing one to three branches.
n Close all four branches and strengthen services at the main library as well as outreach services.
n Implement revenue-generating measures that could include fees for Internet access, research and book holds as well as overdue book fines. Even if these measures were approved, some cutbacks likely still would be necessary, she said.
Late last week, Dowell said she was working on additional alternatives that combine cutbacks and revenue-generating measures.
One other factor the board will have to consider is the 2009 budget implication of staff layoffs and unemployment costs.
The library does not pay unemployment taxes and instead operates on what Dowell describes as a “pay as you go” system.
If someone is laid off, the library would have to pay unemployment costs. The maximum payout is $390 a week for 26 weeks, or about $10,000, she said.
If no library branches are closed, Dowell projects about 30 employees systemwide will have to be laid off. Under that scenario, she estimated the unemployment costs could be as high as $162,000.
“That has to be part of the mix of what we look at in budget cuts,” Dowell said.
As she previously has stated, “This board has to make some tough, tough decisions.”
While Peggy Esau hopes the Meadows branch doesn’t have to close, she understands the library’s budget dilemma.
“It’s disappointing. I certainly understand that they can’t keep everything going,” she said. “I realize it’s hard to keep so many branches open.”
She especially likes having the library branch on one floor, where her granddaughter can play children’s games on one computer and Esau can check her e-mail on an adjoining computer.
“This makes it a lot easier for me as an adult with a young child that everything is on one level,” she said.
If the branch closed, they’d probably go to the main library more often, but not as frequently as they visit Meadows.
Also at the Meadows branch last Tuesday was retiree Ross Davis, 63, who visits about two times a week to read the paper or magazines. He goes “to get out of the house,” he said.
He likes the small, relaxing atmosphere. “I hope they don’t close it,” he said. If it closed, he would go to the main library or the North branch — if it remained open — but not as often.
Another Meadows patron, 48-year-old Larry Spelts, was doing Internet research. He goes about once a week to use the computer and check out books.
Closing the Meadows and other branches “would be very unfortunate,” Spelts said. “It’s a very valuable service for the community.”
Thursday afternoon, the West Terre Haute branch had a steady stream of customers. Schoolchildren used the computers, while other patrons checked out books, picked up tax forms or used the copiers.
Thirteen-year-old Tessa Clifton said she walks to the library branch every day after school to do homework and play games. Her computer at home is broken, and she doesn’t have Internet access, anyway.
If the branch closed, “I’d be pretty mad about it,” said the West Vigo Middle School student. If she needed to use the main library, she’d have to wait until someone came home to give her a ride.
Clifton knows some people who don’t have a computer or car who wouldn’t have a way to get to the main library in Terre Haute.
Frank Barushak, a 35-year-old disabled veteran, tries to visit the branch two or three times a week. He opposes closing the West Terre Haute branch. “I think they should start with their pay,” he said, voicing his opinion on where budget cuts should start.
He believes many elderly and disabled who use the branch would have difficulty going to the main library. Also, the branch provides many resources for those on limited incomes.
Branch manager Raina Konazeski suggested that even if people have transportation, they may choose not to go to the main branch, which is about 2 1/2 miles away.
Jim Mann teaches adult basic education classes at the branch on Monday and Wednesday nights. His students range in ages from 17 to 79. Some are working to earn their GED or trying to pass the ISTEP. Others are high school graduates working to improve their English and math skills. The classes are offered through the Vigo County School Corp.
“I can’t imagine the people of West Terre Haute not having access to a library” in their community, he said. The classes he teaches there “allow people to achieve success.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Vigo County Public Library Board will conduct a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the lower level of the main library.
• The board is expected to discuss options, although no action will be taken. There will be no public comment period.
• The board will conduct a regular meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 and could begin acting on some cost-reduction measures at that time.