MOUNT VERNON — As Knox County businesses start to reopen following the COVID-19 shutdown, the public library system is grappling with the economic fallout from the state-ordered closures.
Effective May 1, the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County laid off 28 employees from its staff of 64. The layoffs represent a 44 percent reduction.
Library Director John Chidester said that 97 percent of the library's operating revenue comes from two main sources: the public library fund (PLF) and two local operating levies.
The public library fund comes from the state's general revenue fund (GRF). It is 1.7 percent of the GRF and includes income tax, sales tax, and the commercial activity tax.
“That's about half of our operating revenue,” he said. “That has started to tank.”
In March, the GRF was down 10.5 percent; in April, it was down 34.5 percent.
“That's a huge hit. We don't know what it's going to be in June, July, or August,” he said. “We're hoping there's going to be some recovery in it, because if it stays that low or goes lower … It's serious enough as it is, to the point that we had to essentially almost eliminate our materials budget and cut the staff nearly in half.
“Those are draconian measures, but they're necessary because the operating revenue is not going to be coming in.”
About 47 percent of operating revenue comes from property taxes via local levies. Chidester said the library received money from taxes covering the second half of 2019 plus a January advance on 2020 taxes.
“We won't know until we collect the first half of taxes for 2020, which will happen sometime in June, what kind of a hit that will take,” he said. “The idea being, of course, that job losses have been historic. If people aren't working, it means they are not buying things, and they are not paying sales taxes. And they are not having income, so that knocks out the income taxes. When that happens, you're going to have people who are not able to pay their property taxes, and so there will be delinquencies and foreclosures. I hope that's not going to be on a grand scale, but we just don't know.
“On the PLF side, it's huge,” he added. “It's a day-to-day, month-to-month thing to find out what the financial damage is going to be from all of this.
“Putting all of that together and knowing that right now things are pretty serious and not knowing going forward if it's going to get much more serious, stay as serious, or ease off a bit, we have to imagine the worst-case scenario,” he continued. “So for that reason, we've had to cut back. But we're still doing our best to provide as much in the way of services that we can to the general public.”
Chidester hopes to have some insight by mid-July but does not anticipate recalling any staff members before the end of July.
“Everything is a wait-and-see proposition for us right now,” he said. "I don't know if we'll be able to make any call-backs then. I hope we will, at least some. I just really don't know.
“We are assuming more or less that these layoffs will be temporary, although some of these people will find other jobs,” he continued. “So we just have to play it by ear as we go along. But we assume these to be temporary unless we find out otherwise. Everything depends on what happens next state-wise and nationally.”
In addition to the layoffs, Chidester planned to close the Danville and Gambier branches completely last Monday, May 11. Both branches occupy space in village administration buildings.
“We have some concerns about social distancing, sanitization, and so forth,” he explained. “Those are the only two branches that exist as part of another structure. We don't have complete control over all of that, so there was some concern on the part of the staff that they would not be able to control things like how social distancing would work.”
The Danville and Gambier branches share management and staff. Except for two, all other staff members were laid off. Chidester said that after working out staffing issues, the Danville branch joined Mount Vernon and Fredericktown in offering curbside hold pick-up.
Gambier remains closed until further notice, but the Wi-Fi will remain on in the parking lot for public use.
The library system closed its doors to the public in mid-March when Gov. Mike DeWine began closing nonessential businesses and issuing his stay-at-home orders. Some employees have worked remotely, helping the library maintain an online presence in social media and monitoring the electronic chat feature on the library's website. Other staff members had worked on site cleaning and sanitizing CDs, DVDs, and book covers.