Each year during the annual budgeting process, county officials have to get creative to spread around the finite amount of funds available to pay for county services.
This year is no different, with departments asking for funding and Guadalupe County Commissioners Court deciding who gets how much of it. In a workshop meeting Monday, commissioners will discuss a change in next year’s funding for the three public libraries in the county.
“We want to support libraries,” County Judge Kyle Kutscher said. “It’s a beautiful building here in town, and you’ve got the libraries in Marion and Schertz.”
The county currently helps to fund each of the public libraries: one in Seguin, one in Marion and a third in Schertz. County officials have been taking close looks at all of Guadalupe County’s finances during budget workshops in recent weeks and came up with a proposal to decrease funding to the three libraries by 15% each, Kutscher said.
The decrease, if adopted, would mean about a $64,000 total savings for the county, according to numbers Kutscher provided.
Guadalupe County currently pays $217,152 to the library in Schertz, $36,589 to the one in Marion and $173,742 to the Seguin Public Library.
A 15% reduction would amount to about $184,579 going to Schertz, about $31,101 going to Marion and Seguin’s amount would fall to about $147,681.
The libraries currently are funded according to a formula taking into account populations and other factors, Kutscher said, adding that any reductions would be just reductions and not overall elimination of funding help from the county.
News of the possibility of cuts has made its way into the community. Some are concerned that less funding could negatively affect the services provided at the libraries.
The presence of viable libraries and library services near where people live affect the quality of life of an area, some have said.
Evelyn Bender, of Seguin, spends a few days per month at the library in town playing cards with her friends. The library improves the quality of life in Seguin and offers her and friends a place to take their out of town company to show off one of the county’s jewels, Bender said.
She also participates in some of the free services provided at the library.
“I come to, like, the doctor talks and stuff,” Bender said, adding that she would miss the periodically-held conferences were they to end due to budget constraints. “It would be a big disappointment I think they’re educational and help our lives.”
About a year ago, Samuel Trevino’s pastor told him to move from San Antonio to Seguin and open a church, which Trevino did. He said in the year that he’s been here, he has taken to going to the local library frequently.
Trevino said he goes to the library because he doesn’t have internet access at home. He uses the facility’s computers to research things he will talk about in church and more, Trevino said.
The thought that budget cuts could diminish the library’s operations and, in turn, his access to the computers and world wide web are a bit discouraging, he said.
“I come about four times a week. I do most of my work here,” Trevino said. “If they’re going to decrease the funding, it’s going to affect me personally ... The availability is necessary for me.”
One person keeping a close eye on commissioners’ decision is Jacki Gross.
Gross has been employed at the Seguin Public Library for many years. She started as assistant director in 1998 when it was the Seguin-Guadalupe County Public Library. In 2006, the former director retired and Gross became the new director, a position she continues to hold.
In her years as director, Gross said she has worked with directors at the two other public libraries in the county to show solidarity when dealing with county officials regarding the budgets and other issues. She felt depressed after hearing county commissioners discussing funding plans at a June workshop meeting, Gross said.
“They were pretty clear that they were thinking that they were going to, at the very least, have to cut funding some,” she said of commissioners. “We’re fortunate we get county funds and the three libraries in the county always present a united front because we think library services are important to the citizens of Guadalupe County.”
It’s the services that are likely to suffer in the wake of funding decreases, Gross suggested.
Her library already operates on a “pretty tight” budget, she said. Operating a library is no longer just about putting books on the shelves, Gross said.
There’s more to it and with additional services come additional costs that could be threatened with fewer dollars, she said.
“We would be able to operate but as far as programming, the types of services, it’s not just about books anymore,” Gross said. “You have e-books, you have databases, all of those different types of materials, and then just staying open 65 hours a week, seven days a week, it would really be hard to have.”
So far in fiscal year 2019, her library has conducted more than 500 programs with more still to come, she said. The programs are offered free to anyone who wants to attend, but costs show up on her bottom line, Gross said.
He and other members of the commissioners court understand the value of libraries, Kutscher said. But they are required to measure the wants and needs of all of the county’s departments and weigh out what, ultimately, is best for every resident in Guadalupe County.
That means making some tough decisions, and allocating the available dollars in the most effective and safest way, Kutscher said.
He recognizes that when it comes to the Seguin library, the $217,152 it currently receives in county funds makes up about 15% or so of the library’s budget. Similarly, close to the same number of library cardholders on the Seguin Public Library’s books are residents of the county who live outside of the city.
On the surface, that would seem to show that the county is paying its fair share for library services. Kutscher said, though, the county has paid a larger portion in prior years than the rate at which county residents held library cards.
So, basically, things now are beginning to even out.
The county commissioners court supports libraries as well as the services provided by agencies and departments across the county, even in the cities, Kutscher said.
“The county and the cities are tied together in so many ways,” he said. “We want to be good partners.”
The library director for Schertz was on vacation and unavailable for comment on this report. Marion Community Library’s director directed questions about the library’s budget to Marion ISD’s superintendent, who did not return a voice mail message seeking comment.
Gross said she understands the county’s predicament in balancing the scores of requests for funding in the annual budget. They must provide appropriations for services such as fire and police protection, among other things, she said.
Her fear is that once the county begins cutting funding that libraries’ piece of the pie will continue to shrink, Gross said.
“Once they start cutting you always fear you won’t ever get it back and you will continue to get less is the biggest fear,” she said.
“I just hope county commissioners recognize the value libraries provide to the citizens. I know streets are important, fire and police are important,” Gross continued. “A lot of times, libraries are forgotten because we operate with minimal funding and manage to do okay with that. But if it keeps dwindling and dwindling, it gets harder to do that.”