BELDING — Betty Jenkins has been assisting the community of Belding with its library needs for nearly 40 years.
When she lost her job at the Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library on March 28 and didn’t know where to turn, that same community came rushing to her aid with unmeasurable support.
Jenkins, 51, served as the technical services clerk at the library, where she has been employed for 36 1/2 years — since before she graduated high school in 1978.
It’s the only place she’s ever been employed.
But after the Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library Board was forced to reduce its budget for the next fiscal year due to economic restraints, members decided Jenkins’ full-time position with benefits had to be eliminated.
However, during the Belding City Council meeting on April 17, community members made their voices heard.
“We accepted the tentative budget with a revision that the library board revisit their budget,” Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson said at Tuesday morning’s library board meeting. “They wanted to work with us, so we came up with eight scenarios. We reduced those right away down to three, because five of them still eliminated people and that’s not what we wanted.”
After about 15 minutes of deliberation, the library board members voted unanimously to reinstate Jenkins’ position.
“I’m just very, very happy,” Jenkins said of her reinstatement. “I’m overwhelmed by all of the support. I’m looking forward to coming back to the library, to the job that I love. I’m very happy about it. I can hardly wait to come back.”
Library board member Eileen McFadden said the board’s original decision in March was an arbitrary decision with a focus on library services.
“We’re at a point where we had to make a decision about library services,” McFadden said. “Everybody knew we were in trouble financially. We did the budget thinking this would be the least disruption to library services.”
The board meeting took place in the basement of the library in a standing-room-only environment where extra chairs had to be brought in.
After revisiting the budget and listening to the voices of the community, McFadden said the board made a mistake.
“We listened to you, we changed, we incorporated your wishes, we are a part of the city and this is the Belding library and we listened to you,” she said. “We made a mistake, we’ve been taken out to the woodshed, we heard the community’s message.”
The staff will remain at seven employees at the library, with significant reductions in hours and pay.
Two full-time positions will have hours reduced from 36.4 to 32 hours per week. Jenkins’ wage will be reduced by 18 percent.
Two part-time positions will have hours reduced from 21.4 to 14 hours per week.
One part-time youth librarian will work slightly more hours, but with a wage reduced by 4.32 percent.
One part-time library assistant’s hours would be reduced from 27.5 to 25 hours per week with a wage reduction of 18 percent.
And one full-time director position will remain at 40 hours per week, but with salary reduced by 5.25 percent.
The original submitted budget came in at $169,361 in total personnel costs.
The revised budget came in at $179,660, just more than $10,000 in additional costs.
Library Director Toni Jagger said the additional costs will be covered with reductions to operating costs at the library, leaving the budget balanced at a total of $439,081 in total revenues and total expenditures.
The library board’s decision wasn’t final until Belding City Council members could vote the revised budget through, which they did unanimously at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Belding resident Nancy Baum said without Jenkins, the library just wouldn’t be the same.
“Betty has been the face of the library ever since I have been coming to the library,” Baum said. “She has not only given people who come to the library a welcome face but she helps everybody and she’s always been helpful in the community, going beyond her responsibilities.”
Belding resident Jacqueline Badersnider, who hired Jenkins at the library before she had graduated from high school, was relieved to see her reinstated.
“I had the privilege of hiring Betty over 30 years ago,” Badersnider said. “I saw this dedicated, knowledgeable person. She’s lived here all her life. She knows the history of this town and this library; she’s exceptionally helpful with genealogists that come to this library. I would hate to think that after all of these years, a budget cut would be put off on one employee.”
After many tears and shared hugs with audience members, Jenkins walked out of the library knowing she would soon be walking back in once again as an employee of the building.
“I just want to thank everyone who came out and supported me,” she said. “This wonderful community, they did it. I’m glad that the board did what they did. I just want to get back to my desk and serve the people.”