Faced with a months-long delay in the hiring of a new county librarian, county commissioners Tuesday morning named County Coordinator Michael Morón as interim head of the department, working closely with the volunteer chairs of the library board and the library’s friends group.

By a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Noah Lockley and William Massey opposed, the commissioners approved Morón’s recommendation to have Kate Aguiar, chair of the library advisory board, and Pam Tullous, chair of the Friends of the Library, serve as site supervisors for the Eastpoint and Carrabelle branches, working under his authority as a county employee.

“Since they frequently visit your libraries, they could work with the library staff on day-to-day issues, with the understanding that I will be informed and have the final say on all issues,” Morón said. “If you consider advertising, interviewing, selection, and notification, the earliest start date for a new director won’t be until the last week in November or the first week in December. That is a long time to go without some type of supervision, and my current schedule doesn’t allow for weekly visits to the Eastpoint and Carrabelle branches.”

Following Lisa Lance’s resignation as library director June 7, Aguiar appeared last at the county budget workshop to appeal for a significant boost in the library budget to accommodate a pay hike for Lance’s successor. She hoped to secure a starting pay of $61,000, a sharp contrast to the $35,000 figure that Lance was hired at a couple years ago.

Both Massey and Lockley quickly led opposition to the budget increase at the July 25 workshop.

“Ma'am, that’s not going to happen,” said Lockley, at the conclusion of Aguiar’s opening statement.

“We have people been ere in the county that don’t make near that, “said Massey. “No way we can give that to somebody.”

Aguiar held her ground, noting a more than $9,000 increase in forthcoming state funding would help cover the additional expense, which she said was sorely needed to attract a candidate with the proper experience and credentials, which would include masters of library science (MLS)

“We’re at $35,000 or below,” she said. “We have found ourselves in a continual cycle, they come here and receive their education and leave.”

She said she arrived at the increased salary after speaking with leaders of the library consortium, and surveying other libraries in the region and in the state.

Aguiar said the librarian in Wakulla is at $48,000, with the library there open fewer hours per week, and that in Liberty, where they have two libraries and half the staff, the librarian is not required to have an MLS and paid up to $41,000.

The Gulf County librarian starts at $38,000 without an MLS, and between $66,000 and $99,000 is the starting pay in central Florida, Aguiar said.

In Apalachicola, librarian Jill Rourke, who has an MLS, is paid $42,500 plus benefits, making the total package about $61,000. When Lance left, she was earning an annual salary of just over $37,000.

“I’m not trying to spend the money willy-nilly,” Aguiar said.

She said that in some instances, grants require the librarian have an MLS degree. “They aren’t available if the person doesn’t come in with the requisite qualifications,” she said.

“The last director, she used us to get a master’s degree. I don’t blame her one bit,” said Massey. “They are not going to be in for the long haul.”

Lockley indicated he was willing to set the starting salary at $40,000. “We have people that got years and years, they’ll be coming in making more than them,” he told Aguiar. “You’re going to have to come back with a better number.”

Commissioner Ricky Jones asked why a pay hike wasn’t discussed with Lance. “By the time I found out her intentions it was too late. It was pretty much a surprise to most of us,” said Aguiar. “She also felt hindered to advocate for a raise she knew she’d be pushed back on.”

Aguiar noted the libraries had let go of a part-time position that has not been replaced.

Erin Griffith, the county’s assistant finance director, said the additional state funding could be used to boost the starting salary.

“You can’t depend on that,” said Lockley. “We lock that in, that’s going to fall on us to continue it.”

Griffith said over the last decade, state funding has ranged from $66,000 annually to $98,000, with it mostly in the low to mid $70,000 range.

“This is an issue about merit and credentialing, the ability to bring in money to the county,” said Commissioner Bert Boldt. “We have a big educational impairment; the library provides a source of education (to young people).

“We didn’t talk about the longevity of our county employees relative to this positon. (We need) a great credentialed person who doesn’t use the county as a stepping stone,” he said.

Spurred by Commissioner Smokey Parrish to reach a decision, the commissioners went back and forth with Aguilar, with her willing to drop down as low as $48,000.

“If this was my money I’d give you money with a blessing,” Lockley said. “It’s not my money; I have to be accountable. These other department heads, their job is just as important as that library. Why should starting pay for a librarian be higher than other department heads?

“Everybody has a library on their smartphones,” he added.

Eventually, the commissioners agreed to tentatively approve a starting salary of no more than $45,000, but they made clear that the final number would not be set until the budget hearings Sept. 3 and 17.

Aguiar said last week that the search committee received only a handful of applications on their first request.

“We didn’t get as many applications as we have in the past, which is a little concerning,” she said. “We’re hamstrung with a limited salary. Even at $45,000, I don’t know we would get someone of the qualifications of someone we truly need.

“We’re a little bit in a holding pattern,” she said.

Morón said a new advertisement to fill the position won’t start until after the final budget public hearing.

In the interim, eh said he has been working with Griffith and Pat Gilleland, of Wilderness Coast Public Libraries, on the library administrative responsibilities such as the State Aid to Libraries grant for the upcoming fiscal year, and assorted purchase order items.