One budget question on the minds of some constituents is “What is the future of our public libraries?” Fairfax County’s library system includes 23 “brick and mortar” locations, plus access services. Mason District is home to three libraries in the system: George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, Thomas Jefferson branch in Falls Church, and Woodrow Wilson branch in Bailey’s Crossroads/Culmore. All three libraries have been renovated and expanded during the past 20 years, and patrons can access traditional library services, like current best sellers and treasured classics, scientific and technical publications, magazines, and children’s books. A library patron also may access the Internet from a library-based computer, reserve a quiet room for study, or attend an event in a library meeting room.
Today’s libraries are more accessible than ever, and you don’t even have to step into the building. While Fairfax County library visits decreased by about 100,000 in each of the past three years, to 4.6 million in-person visits, catalog logins by computer increased by three million in FY2017, to nearly 13 million. Obviously, our libraries are well-used and well-loved, in person and online. Did you know that you can check out a thermal imaging camera to locate your home’s hot and cold spots? (The reservation list is long, so you might want to sign up now). Nature backpacks, DVDs, and e-books provide learning opportunities in many formats for the county’s diverse population.
The library system serves millions of residents in a very efficient manner. Fewer than 380 employees work across the entire system, from full-time director to part-time library aide, helping patrons, responding to requests for information, programming special events, and selecting/purchasing library materials, a never-ending process. The proposed FY2019 county budget includes an addition $1.1 million for personnel; recent budget reductions have affected some materials selection, but the circulation per capita rate still was 9.8, an incredible number for our million-plus person community.
Book-ended with libraries (no pun intended) in the budget documents is the Fairfax County Park Authority, stewards of the 23,000-plus acres of county-owned parkland. Nearly 18 million people visited county parks in FY2017, enjoying activities from athletics (any playing field) to zoology (Hidden Oaks Nature Center). The advertised budget allocates $30,466,746 in county funding, offset by recreation class fees and recovered costs (facility rentals, etc) of more than $4 million, for a net cost to the county of $25,884,785, or less than $25 per resident. Investing in parks and open space, especially in an urbanizing county, is a gift for today, and for future generations.
The Mason District Budget Town Meeting is tonight, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. County Executive Bryan Hill and Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro will present the advertised budget, with a question and answer period to follow. The meeting is open to all Mason District residents. I look forward to seeing you there.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]