DADE CITY — Commissioners said they didn't want to do it, but they had no choice.
To help make up for a projected $2 million budget shortfall this year, they reluctantly voted to close Pasco County libraries on Mondays.
"It's not what any of us want to do," said Commissioner Michael Cox. "But it's the fiscally conservative thing we must do."
The move comes as libraries face a triple whammy: the state's property tax rollback, Amendment 1 and a dismal economy.
"It's so depressing," library system director Linda Allen said after the meeting.
In a Feb. 17 memo, Allen said the library system had to freeze 17 vacant positions. Of those, nine were professional librarians.
"In order for libraries to continue to operate with this level of staff reduction, we are recommending that all libraries' public service locations be moved to a 40-hour-per-week public schedule, which would include being closed on Mondays."
Each branch will be open until 8 p.m. once a week. All branches would open at 10 a.m. Each branch will remain open on Saturdays. Libraries are closed on Sundays.
Allen said Monday was picked after considering every option, including rotating the day the branches would be closed.
But no one they asked liked that idea, she said.
Being closed an extra day is expected to save the county $472,320 this fiscal year, though rising utility rates might wipe out some of that savings.
Allen said she doesn't expect next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, to be much better as the county has to plug a $30 million budget hole.
The library has also done other things to save money. Last April, it cut back operating times by one hour each day. It also cut in half the number of days patrons could keep materials from 28 to 14 in hopes to keeping more items in circulation.
Allen said Tuesday the library system has reduced by 11 percent its programming, for which has won national awards.
"Those out-of-the-box programs where we have speakers may be okay, but things that are intensive for staff time are probably not going to happen," she said.
Allen said the library has made good use of volunteers, but they are limited in what jobs they can do because of legal constraints and because of the advanced training necessary.
"Even our library assistants have four-year degrees," she said.
An economic downturn is a tough time to reduce library services because it's when people need them the most, said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who called the system "the shining star" of the county.
County figures show circulation of materials is up 27 percent from last year, while Internet sign-ups are up 11 percent and the number of card-carrying patrons is up 6 percent, to 227,053.
"That's the irony of what we're facing," Hildebrand said.
Allen said she hopes the moves will be temporary.
"We want to come back — with an expanded schedule," she said.
Until then, west Pasco bibliophiles can find some refuge from the Monday closings at the New Port Richey Library. The library, which is run by the city, has a reciprocal agreement with the county system.
Any county resident may use that library, at 5939 Main St. in New Port Richey, said Ann Scott, outreach director. It's open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
"All they need to do is show their library card and an ID and we'll give them a card," she said. "We'd love to have them come to our library."
Lisa Buie can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604.