Officials say the proposed 3 percent increase in dollars allocated for Jackson County’s two public libraries is money well spent.

The Jackson County Library in Sylva and the Albert-Carlton Cashiers Community Library would share a pot of $1,154,908 under the proposed 2019-20 fiscal-year budget. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson County Justice Center. The tax rate is proposed to remain at 0.38 cents per $100 property valuation.

The small budget increase for the libraries would allow for employee cost-of-living wage boosts and a part-time position in Cashiers to move to full-time.

Jackson County Librarian Tracy Fitzmaurice told commissioners during a May 22 budget work session employees had answered nearly 21,000 technology-related questions from the start of 2018 to April 2019. The Library, not including numbers from Cashiers, had probably several hundred thousand visits last year, she said, with students – either taking classes or studying – making up a large portion of those.

“The thing I’m so pleased about our library is the connection people make there,” Commissioner Gayle Woody said. “It used to be a solitary kind of thing – you would check out a book, take it home and read it. But our library allows people to connect on so many levels.”

“It’s almost hard to believe, but I’ve had people say ‘that was the biggest waste of money for that library, nobody goes to the library,’” Commissioner Boyce Deitz said. “I say, ‘Well you must not know what you’re talking about. My grandkids go, and my wife goes continually.’”

“A lot of people are surprised by what we do,” Fitzmaurice said. “It isn’t just books.”

The librarian reviewed for commissioners some highlights going into the next budget year:

• Employees continued an initiative to get every student in Jackson County a library card. The next step, Fitzmaurice said, is to expand from public and charter schools to include private schools.

• The libraries are preparing programs around the summer theme of space, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

• This summer the libraries will participate in a state “feed-and-read” program, known locally as “LEGO Lunch,” Fitzmaurice said. Lunch will be provided for free two days per week, Mondays and Wednesdays, she said.

• Last year, the library system received a $90,000 grant for “Maker” tools, including a 3D printer.

• The libraries will begin offering “Universal Class,” which features more than 500 online classes for continuing education, Fitzmaurice said.