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In the year 2010, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library went through its greatest funding crisis since 1939-40, when it was obliged to close for a year during the Great Depression. The steps in this series of external shocks are chronicled below, and the story of how the library righted itself and set a new course is told in a second page.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County experienced the economic recession of 2008 first as a flattening of home prices. In the past decade, yearly increases in home prices had reliably matched or exceeded the rate of inflation, but the comparison of 2008 to 2007 figures showed a decline in real values. Bowen, H.P. “Real Scoop on Local Home Prices.” Charlotte Observer, August 31, 2008, p.4D
In late 2008, as financial markets around the world contracted, the great uptown banks tottered, but the institutions and their assets survived. Local job losses mounted to the point that in June, 2009, the library announced plans to offer special services to the unemployed, culminating in the transformation of a room in the Main Library into the Job Help Center, which opened in January of 2010 as a specialized service center for job-seekers.
In the spring of 2010, Mecklenburg County revealed that the holiday shopping season of 2009 had not produced the sales tax revenues that had been budgeted into plans for the 2010 fiscal year. When the consequences of this shortfall became known around the county, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library itself became part of the story of Charlotte’s and the nation’s economic woes.
Budget Reduction in FY 2010
March 16, 2010 - The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library learns that Mecklenburg County will be reducing the Library’s funding for Fiscal Year 2010 by 6.3 percent, or $2 million dollars, before June 30, 2010.
March 18, 2010 – Library Board accepts recommendation to close 12 branches and lay off 148 staff persons in order to absorb the funding reduction. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Library passes motion to lay off 148, close 12 libraries.” Press Release, March 18, 2010.
The $2 million reduction that the county required was small considered as a portion of the library’s $32 million budget for the year, but it nonetheless made drastic changes necessary. It came three quarters of the way through the fiscal year, and therefore represented a much larger proportion of the remaining funds for that year than just 6.3%. On such short notice, the library had few options for finding savings other than layoffs and closings.
The decision to cut library staff and close library locations was extremely difficult. We value the contributions of our exceptional library employees. Losing their jobs in these uncertain economic times we know will place considerable hardships on them and their families. I’m heartbroken for what they face and for what we face as a community with the closure of almost 50% of our libraries. – Charles Brown, Director of Library. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Library learns of $2 million cut in current budget year.” Press Release, March 17, 2010.
Public reactions included outrage at the Board of County Commissioners that libraries should be targeted at all and anger at the Library for proposing the closure of recently established, heavily used neighborhood branches in favor of a skeleton system of regionals and community branches. Batten, Taylor. “Libraries face a new day, as do we all.” Charlotte Observer, March 21, 2010, p.21
March 24, 2010 - At their next meeting, members of the Board heeded patrons’ cries of dismay over the proposed closing of small branches and approved a plan that kept almost all branches open with reduced service rather than maintain full service in just a few branches. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Library Board votes to keep libraries open.” Press Release, March 24, 2010
April 2010 – 120 employees were laid off under the Reduction in Force Policy – “riffed,” as library employees said.
Budget Reduction in FY 2011
Enacting cuts to meet the shortfall of FY 2010 was only the beginning of the story. The county had told the library to prepare for a 50% reduction in the coming fiscal year. The Library administration went on to consider how to survive in this grim scenario. The least bad option involved closing all but the regionals and laying off an additional 200 staff persons for a two thirds reduction from pre-RIF levels. Such a cutback would have inflicted long-term damage to the library.
In response, the Board developed a “Sustainablity Plan” that sketched out a way for the library to continue with more of its services intact if it could receive an additional eight million dollars. The plan was presented to City leaders on April 28. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Library presents plan to city leaders.” Press Release, April 28,2010 Mayor Anthony Foxx and the leaders of five towns in Mecklenburg County expressed willingness to help.
May 19 – Mecklenburg County gave preliminary approval to a 17.7 million dollar budget for the library, only just shy of the 50% reduction from the previous year that it had warned the Board to expect.
At a Board meeting the next day, Vice-Chair Bob Sink presented a “Business Case” for the sustainability plan. The cost of paying unemployment for the number of persons laid off in the worst-case scenario, he argued, would all but offset the savings achieved through layoffs and closings. A more judicious cut would actually realize a greater net savings. Board of Trustees, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Business Case.” Attachment #1 to Minutes of May 20, 2010, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Library Board prepares for reduced budget.” Press Release, May 20, 2010.
June, 2010 – the local governments of Mecklenburg County dug deeper to find money for the library:
- Mecklenburg County approved $3.5 million in additional funding for the Library contingent upon the Library's agreeing to pursue the consolidation of Information Technology, Human Resources, Communications, Finance, and Capital Projects management with county departments. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Mecklenburg County Commissioners approve $3.5 million in additional Library funding.” Press Release, June 4, 2010
- The City of Charlotte approved $1.4 million in one-time emergency funding for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Charlotte officials approve $1.4 in one-time emergency funding for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.” Press Release, June 4, 2010
- Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill made contributions to the Library or deferred payments owed to them to equal a total of $750,000 towards the library’s budget. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Five Mecklenburg Towns approve Interlocal Cooperation Agreement for one-time Library funding.” Press Release, June 21, 2010
All told, the Library raised $5.6 million of the additional $8 million that the Board had judged necessary for “sustainability.” In addition, many small donations from members of the public added over $400,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
The Library went in to FY2011 with the following resources:
- Total Budget of $23.3 million, a 27% reduction from the previous year
- Twenty branches, down four (17%) from the previous year
- A workforce reduced more than 40% from its pre-crisis high
- Hours of service reduced by 53% (from 1,525.5 hrs./wk. across all branches to 722)
- Book-buying budget reduced 58% from the previous year McMillan, Caroline. “Book stores to help libraries.” Charlotte Observer, July 21, 2010, p.9P
Batten, Taylor. “Libraries face a new day, as do we all.” Charlotte Observer, March 21, 2010, p.21
Board of Trustees, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Business Case.” Attachment #1 to Minutes of May 20, 2010
Bowen, H.P. “Real Scoop on Local Home Prices.” Charlotte Observer, August 31, 2008, p.4D
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Press Releases:
- “Library learns of $2 million cut in current budget year.” March 17, 2010.
- “Library passes motion to lay off 148, close 12 libraries.” March 18, 2010.
- “Library Board votes to keep libraries open.” March 24, 2010, which cited “an outcry of public opinion” as the decisive factor.
- “Library presents plan to city leaders.” 4/28/2010
- “Library Board prepares for reduced budget.” May 20, 2010.
- “Mecklenburg County Commissioners approve $3.5 million in additional Library funding.” June 4, 2010.
- “Charlotte officials approve $1.4 million in one-time emergency funding for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.” June 8 , 2010
- “Five Mecklenburg Towns approve Interlocal Cooperation Agreement for one-time Library funding.” June 21, 2010
McMillan, Caroline. “Book stores to help libraries.” Charlotte Observer, July 21, 2010, p.9P