The Neosho / Newton County Library Board voted Tuesday afternoon to accept a $708,431 budget for fiscal year 2014.

The board met at the Seneca Library at 4 p.m., and cast their vote on final reading, with board member Suzanne Brown in opposition.

"That is the only one that's truly balanced," said board member Beth Styron, referring to budget option three.

The board was presented with three budget options, and Brown spoke in favor of budget option one, which showed $727,019 in expenses.

The budget showed a $17,634 shortfall, though Brown said based on current revenue trends, that shortfall should be able to be covered with carryover that was not included in the budget.

She also noted that the library has $947,000 in reserves.

"The $20,000 difference appears to be able to be covered by tax revenue this year and have the reserves continue on over for next year and cover that," Brown said. "I'm of the thought that we're going to have the money."

Styron noted that option one leaves everything unchanged, including employee salaries. The intent of option three, she said, was to be able to provide raises to employees who have earned them.

"One of our goals in developing option three was to say, 'look, it's been three years since anybody had a raise, we want to try to get some raises in there for employees that are meeting and exceeding job standards,'" Styron said.
Brown proposed that if the library had carryover not spent, that it be put to raises, and she made a motion for the adoption of budget option one, though no one seconded or responded to her motion.

Brown said budget option three, which the majority of the board approved, was presented in August with a plan to cut hours at the Seneca Library, as well as cut one part-time personnel position at the Neosho library.

The budget, which includes raises for personnel, also includes a cut in hours for some part-time personnel in Neosho and personnel at the Seneca library.

The library board voted in September 2012 to close the Seneca library branch due to budget constraints, however, that decision changed in the following month's meeting, when they opted to give the branch six months into 2013, at which time a group of Seneca area residents began working to raise money for the library.

The board then voted in March to give the library until the end of 2013.

Brown said the adoption of the 2014 budget does not necessarily mean that the Seneca library branch will be kept open.

"The board tonight said that they approved a budget, but how that budget is spent and how the personnel and the services are allotted is completely up to the library director," Brown said and said no decision beyond 2013 has been made.

Josh Dodson, president of the Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce, has been a vocal advocate for keeping the Seneca branch open.

After Tuesday's open session, Dodson said he believed cutting the hours at the Seneca branch was the board's first move toward closing it altogether.

Even if the library is left open, Dodson said cutting the Seneca library's hours would hurt the Seneca community.

"It will hurt," Dodson said, noting that he had seen children filtering in and out of the library just during the course of the meeting. "Maybe they'll rethink these things and say 'hey listen we can't cut Seneca hours' and that's what we'd hope for but passing that gives you the inclination that they have given the director approval for them to slash the hours at Seneca's location and taking a part-time out of the Neosho branch."

Brown did not disagree with Dodson's assessment that the cut in hours could be the first step toward closing the library, though she noted that she personally would like to see not only the Seneca library remain open, but the eastern part of Newton County also have a library service.

"The board believes that Newton County is best served if all of the library resources are centrally located in Neosho," Brown said, though when asked she said that is not her personal belief. "No, it is not my personal belief. I would like to see some of the resources allocated to the east side of the county so that we could serve the people on the east side of the county as well as central in Neosho and west in Seneca."

The approved budget reflects a $953 surplus, with revenues budgeted at $709, 385.

Among the budget's expenses is $412,731.21 in personnel expenses, $99,750 in total collections and $195,950 in total operating expenses.

If the library's hours are cut as was previously presented, Seneca's library would operate 31 hours per week, as opposed to the 45 operating hours the library currently has.

The library would operate 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Currently the library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

The two employees at the Seneca branch would be cut to 30 hours per week and 10 hours per week.

At the Neosho library, 28 staff hours would also be cut, with one part-time position eliminated. The library would cut four hours, going from 60 operating hours per week to 56, with the library closing at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.