Jeffco libraries will maintain their level of services in 2013 despite another revenue shortfall, a half-dozen mountain-area residents learned on Saturday.
The $430,000 shortfall is a result of fewer property-tax dollars being collected and an increase in costs the library must pay the county, Pam Nissler, Jefferson County Public Library executive director, said during a community forum at Evergreen Library.
To make up the shortfall, the library board will make cuts that won’t affect direct services to library users. It will reduce the number of hours worked by people who replace books on shelves, trim the book acquisition budget, give no salary increases to employees, replace library computers only when they stop working rather than at regular intervals, not replace broken tables or chairs, and eliminate the librarians’ conference budget.
Also cut from the budget was a plan to make updates to the Conifer Library. The updates have been cut from the budget for three years in a row.
The Jeffco Public Library board on Aug. 2 approved a preliminary $26 million bare-bones budget for 2013 that includes no layoffs or closings and anticipates transferring about $1.4 million from the reserve fund to pay for operating expenses.
Nissler said 2013’s $430,000 shortfall came about because assessed valuations of county properties continue to decrease, leading to fewer dollars coming into the county.
The library also must pay $133,000 in additional dollars to the county to pay for countywide informational technology services, even though the library operates its own IT department. She said the additional fee had to do with a grant the county obtained, which requires that all departments and programs help pay for IT.
She said that for the past three years, the library board has had to draw on reserves to help balance the budget in addition to cutting hours and staff. She’s concerned that if the trend continues, the library might not be able to sustain its services.
In response to questions from the audience, Nissler said the library could ask voters for an increase in its property-tax levy, but the library board is looking for data to determine exactly what is required to sustain itself for more than five years. She hopes the research will be completed by spring.
Audience members said that since Jefferson County Public Schools was able to get a property-tax increase approved by voters in November, maybe the library could be successful, too.
Others in the audience asked if the library would begin a campaign to become its own district rather than under the auspices of Jefferson County. They were adamant that a separate library district would allow the library to be autonomous and to ask for tax dollars without having to go through the county commissioners.
Creating a separate library district could be done either by a vote of the county commissioners or by county residents. A move to create a separate library district in 2008 was unsuccessful.
Nissler said the research looking at a possible property-tax increase on the ballot will also answer a lot of questions about whether a separate library district would be most advantageous to the library.
A difficult yet successful year
Nissler said that while it was difficult to cut library hours from 63 to 51 per week in 2012 and to cut staff as a cost-saving measure, the library has been making positive strides.
• Sixty percent of Jefferson County residents have library cards compared, with 48 percent last year.
• The website is being redesigned to make it more user friendly, and it will launch in 2013.
• The number of children involved in the summer reading program countywide increased by 1,000 to 29,000.
• The number of story times for youngsters has been maintained, which is critical to help children be lifelong readers and successful in school.
• The number of e-books available to patrons now is at 20,000, and libraries provide workshops to teach e-reader owners how to download the materials.
• The library is looking to add electrical outlets in the library so more laptop users can plug in.
• The volunteer program that brings books to underprivileged schools in Jeffco has expanded.
She said the board wants the libraries to have a “community living room” appeal, with librarians available to help patrons with questions.
Nissler said library staff would continue to explore new ways of providing services that are more cost effective and to look for new sources of revenue. She said grants, corporate sponsorships and foundation money would be explored.
She asked audience members to find places where library personnel can talk about library features such as civic groups, PTAs, homeowner associations and church groups.
Nissler pledged to do everything possible to keep libraries open and functioning at the highest level.
“My main goal is to do what is best for the library,” Nissler said. “We have a staff that cares greatly about the library. They are passionate … and in it for the long term.”