New library budget spares branches from closure

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Hours at all locations could be reduced

By Emile Hallez

No libraries would be closed under a revised budget presented Sept. 8 to the Jefferson County Public Library trustees.

Instead, an anticipated $2.4 million shortfall would be addressed through other wide-ranging cuts – most notably through reduced hours at every library branch.

The library board had earlier considered closing the Conifer, Wheat Ridge and Edgewater libraries to save about $695,000 annually. The branches would be spared under the revised budget, essentially a re-examination of options at the behest of the county commissioners.

The budget would also permit all branch locations to reopen on Mondays in 2012, though libraries would only be open for seven hours per day on Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, libraries would operate for five hours. Hours of operation would be staggered among the branches to help meet demands during mornings and evenings, library staff said.

Though the proposal would impact patrons of the smallest library branches less, it would more equitably affect users throughout the library system, interim executive director Pam Nissler said.

“This is not without consequences, and it penalizes a much larger group of people,” she said.

Following the library board’s open consideration of closing its three smallest branches, numerous residents expressed outrage, particularly regarding the Conifer Library, a facility integrated with Conifer High School. But if hours are indeed trimmed at all locations, trustees said they expect outcry from a much larger audience.

“We’re taking what this library has always been, and we’re changing it,” trustee T.J. Carney said.


Budget savings

By reducing library operations to single eight-hour work shifts at every location, the new budget would cut about 12 full-time employees, saving $831,360 annually. The library would also incur one-time costs for employee severance, an expense that would likely cut into its savings.

“This is the only year we can afford to do that. After that we can’t,” Nissler said.

Prior to its implementation of Monday closures in 2010, the library offered a severance package as part of a voluntary layoff program. However, closing all branches on Mondays saved the system about $660,000 annually.

“We recovered those costs in six months,” Paddy Correia , library director of administrative services, said of the severance expenses. “That’s how dramatic the difference is in our budget.”

Trustees seemed receptive to the revised budget, most of which staff members presented as options with few alternatives. Of $1.5 million in options are more than $278,000 in reductions to library materials purchases and nearly $205,000 saved by cutting three cataloger positions.

The library would also cut nearly $950,000 through reduced library-page jobs, a decrease to employee training conferences, leaving a vacant facilities manager position unfilled and slashing supply and equipment expenses.

“One thing we like about this is it allows us to expand when things get better,” Nissler said, explaining that additional employee shifts could easily be added at libraries if finances improve in future years. “This is a menu. When and if we need to make more cuts, you can have at them,” she said to the trustees.


Smaller budget

The revised budget was noticeably smaller than the zero-base budget the library presented weeks ago to the county commissioners, which totaled between $27,333,491 and $28,380,550, depending on whether branches would again open on Mondays. But with decreased revenue available for nearly all county departments, it appeared unlikely the commissioners would approve the library’s maximum mill-levy allocation of 3.5 mills.

The commissioners will vote later this year on the county’s entire budget, which includes the library’s mill-levy allocation. While the county sets the mill levy, the library board decides how the money is spent.

Though the library submitted its traditional budget based on 3.425 mills, the revised budget proposal would align expenses and revenue for an allocation of $24.6 million or 3.225 mills – the amount the commissioners have approved for the past two years.

“If we get a 3.225 mill levy award from the county, we basically have a balanced budget,” Nissler said to the trustees. “Really you have to do every one of these things, so that you’re not impacting your reserve at all.”

Library staff also presented budget-trimming options they considered but ultimately rejected as unfeasible. Such options included closing all libraries one additional day per week, cutting even more staff and implementing unpaid furlough days. Though furlough days would save the library about $36,000 per day, they would also force the system to consider more closure dates, Nissler said. Further, furlough days would be a financial burden on staff members who have forgone raises, she said.

“We haven’t been able to give any merit increases for two years,” she said. “We would basically penalize every staff member for this. It would cause a hardship.”

Additional cuts, including a temporary elimination of all employee conference and training funds, were also rejected on the grounds that they would be unsustainable. Cutting training funds would not necessarily be difficult for only a year, but could be detrimental if viewed by the county as unnecessary to resurrect, trustee Linda Rockwell said.

“A couple years ago, we thought this was going to be short and painful,” Rockwell said. “It’s going to be long and painful.”


Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233 ext. 22. 

For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.