Library branches trim summer hours

Prince William’s six neighborhood libraries are closing three hours earlier on Saturdays this summer, two months after the library board said state budget cuts would not reduce service.

The Virginia General Assembly reduced library funding statewide, $124,860 of which fell on the county’s library system to absorb.

In budget hearings earlier this year, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors was told the system would make cuts in permanent salaries, temporary salaries, supplies and equipment, but not cut services.

“This is the first the board has heard of this,” said Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at-large. The cuts were discussed at the library board’s May 22 meeting, and the minutes to the meeting were delivered to him last week. “This appears the problem has arisen from the unavailability of volunteers, but we’re asking for further information.”

The affected libraries are Dale City, Dumfries, Gainesville, Independent Hill, Lake Ridge and Nokesville. They will be open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 21 to Aug. 30 “due to budget restrictions and staffing shortages,” the library system’s Web site states.

Sheryl L. Bass, the library board chairwoman, did not return phone messages to her home Monday.

Library system directors were out of town Monday.

The May library board meeting minutes state the reasons for the shortfall are increased salaries, fewer volunteers, increased hours at some library branches, and that “substitute funds have remained stagnant for years.”

“It’s extremely difficult to get a volunteer for Saturday hours. It’s even harder to schedule an on-call person when at the last minute a volunteer cannot come in on a Saturday,” the minutes state.

Even with the state cutbacks, Prince William’s library system budget increased from $11.7 million to $12.1 million in the current fiscal year that began July 1, according to county budget staff. The library system lost 1.5 staff positions in the budget, staff said.

The pool of volunteers is shrinking. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2002, the library system had 28,871 volunteer hours worked. In the current fiscal year, the budget estimates 26,500 volunteer hours.

County staff pointed out other jurisdictions do not have the equivalent of neighborhood branches, which rely on volunteers.

All four full-service libraries are open until 5 p.m. Saturdays : Bull Run Regional Park, Chinn Park Regional Library, Central Community Library and Potomac Community Library.