Columbia County officials are proposing becoming the hub of a new library region.
At a Thursday meeting, county officials suggested splitting from the East Central Georgia Regional Library System and forming a new region with Warren and Lincoln counties.
“As we look to the future and what we think is best for Columbia County,” Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve and make better use of the taxpayers’ dollars and to make better use and get support from our state agencies. ... (This meeting) is to start the dialogue and look at the possibilities of what we can look to in the future.”
The region currently includes Columbia, Richmond, Burke, Warren and Lincoln counties. The Augusta-Richmond County Library in downtown Augusta is the region headquarters, and distributes state funds to other library affiliates through the region board.
The regional library board recently agreed not to charge Columbia County an annual $130,000 fee to remain a part of the state library system for the 2012-13 fiscal year, Community and Leisure Services Division Director Barry Smith said. The Columbia County libraries use some of the services provided by the headquarters library, but opted out of the main book-buying and technical support services.
As the headquarters, the Augusta-Richmond County Library receives about $1.1 million in state funds to operate the region.
If the new region is formed, Smith said he estimates the Columbia County Library will receive about $118,000 for five libraries in the three counties, plus five state-funded library staff positions.
“If we join with other counties, we would be better off financially than just one county,” Smith said.
As the hub, Columbia County would receive and distribute the state funds, IT support and courier services with transportation, and annual staff in-service meetings and conferences.
Smith said the Evans library also will need some upgrades, including expansions of the IT department, equipment and staff.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to do to make this happen,” Smith said.
Warren County Commission Chairman John Graham and Lincoln County Commissioner Cooper Cliatt attended the meeting.
Cross said he and Smith are willing to make the presentation to officials in those counties.
“There’s still some questions that we have,” Graham said. “But we’re open to it. ... We want to make sure we do it right.”
The deadline to inform the state of the intention to form a new region is Dec. 31. Smith asked to have an answer from officials in Lincoln and Warren counties by Sept. 1.
If the new region is formed, many details of the arrangements will be made by a new region board made up of representatives from all three counties, Cross said.
“It won’t be done by Columbia County alone,” Cross said, adding that the meeting Thursday was only meant to open discussions about the issue.