Harrison County Library System feeling budget pinch

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Harrison County Library System is facing significant financial challenges. Library employees will be required to take 12 furlough days in the coming year and hours will be reduced at branch libraries.

But those cutbacks may not be enough.

That's because next year Harrison County is opening two new libraries.  Those facilities will require additional staffing. And that takes money, at a time when the library system's budget was just reduced by $300,000.

Gulfport's temporary library behind Pass Road Elementary serves up to 200 patrons a day.

"I tell everybody we're the busiest double wide in all of Harrison County," said Librarian Geoff Conwill.

That was certainly the case on Monday morning, especially with visitors using the computers.

Conwill said he'll be happy to see the new downtown library when it opens next Spring.

"We're very much looking forward to being downtown again and having a full staff and just a good library, you know," he said.

The downtown building should be ready to go by March of next year. But as for a full staff, that chapter remains to be written.

And it's not just the new Gulfport library opening next year; the new Biloxi branch will also be finished.

"My biggest long term concern is when these new buildings open, we're going to have to have a relatively dramatic increase in funding," says Library System Director Robert Lipscomb.

The library system's budget dropped from $3.1 million last year to $2.8 million this fiscal year, which began October first. Mandatory employee furloughs have already been adopted.

"I would rather not have to do this for any of our employees. It's not like they're making a lot of money even now. So, it's going to be a sacrifice for a lot of people.  But again, the choice was lay some people off, or keep everyone employed and have everybody, including myself, not get paid for 12 days. So that's what we're doing," said Lipscomb.

Along with employee furloughs designed to save money, Director Lipscomb is also calling on his staff to be flexible, both in the hours they work and the areas to which they're assigned.

"I'm available for instance.  I'll work the reference desk. I'll do check out. Whatever is necessary when I'm needed.  We'll have to keep somebody at headquarters, but we'll interchange people as needed," said the director.

Along with the 12 day employee furloughs, the library system will also be cutting back operating hours at the branch libraries.

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