Counties to split from regional library system, save money

By: Katie Beasley Email
By: Katie Beasley Email

News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Commissioners in Columbia County are set to approve a new library system Tuesday night, separating from the East Central Georgia Regional System.

The new system will save a lot of money for taxpayers in Columbia County. With state funding, though, if someone's getting more money, that means someone else is getting less.

Columbia County continues to grow, and more people bring change -- even to the library.

"It's just a natural progression for this county here, and we're ready to go with it," said Barry Smith, Columbia County director of Community and Leisure Services.

Right now, five counties make up the East Central Georgia Regional Library System, but Columbia County is set to separate, starting its own with Lincoln County and possibly Warren County.

"It's an exciting time, but any time you start something new, there's more work involved," Smith said.

With the move, Columbia County would save about $130,000 every year in membership costs. They estimate they will gain nearly $400,000 more in funds and positions to distribute in the new system.

"It's a win for Warren, win for Lincoln and a win for Columbia County. This is more funding than either of the three counties currently receive," Smith said.

And if more money and jobs head to Columbia County, that means less state funding will be coming to the downtown Augusta branch and regional headquarters.

"I know that it will mean some changes here," said Roberta Wilder, head of Technical Services with the East Central Georgia Regional System. "If there are fewer counties to serve, then it may mean some job shifting and reassignment of personnel. Without having the numbers finalized, it's a little difficult to tell."

It's a move shaking up a normally quiet system.

"We were not surprised by this at all. We're disappointed that we can't remain together. We've worked a long time together, and I think it's worked well, but I can understand that they have a need to expand on their own," Wilder said.

In July, Richmond County's six libraries circulated 60,840 books and media. That's only about 5,000 more than Columbia County's 55,668 at its three libraries. The Evans branch consistently out-circulates the Augusta branch.

"The state looks at statistics and they see that Columbia County, we're moving a lot of materials in the library here," Smith said.

"They feel the need to make a move; we are sad about it, but we understand what's going on behind it. I just hope that it all can work out amicably," Wilder said.

Workers at the Augusta headquarters say it's particularly sad to see Lincoln County leave. They say there's been no issue in terms of services there.

Warren County plans to make its decision at a commission meeting Thursday. Columbia County is under the impression it will be making the move, too, and is already counting them in its figures.

If Columbia County commissioners approve the move, they will need to notify the regional system they are leaving by the end of the year.

The new system would go into affect next July.

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