Library Tightens its Belt in Preparation for 2014 Revenue Reductions
TELLURIDE – Officials at Telluride’s Wilkinson Public Library are facing tough budget decisions, including closing the library on Sundays, as declining property tax revenues begin to have a significant impact on the services the busy library provides.
Library Director Barbara Brattin said on Monday that the library’s reduced income is the result of declining property values within San Miguel County Library District 1, and that property tax changes typically affect the library 18 months later. For 2012, the library has already endured an 11.4 percent revenue decline; Brattin expects an additional .3 percent decline in 2013. Despite those figures, the library has not had to make significant cuts in service. But with another decline in revenues projected to be in the realm of 10 to 15 percent in 2014, Brattin and the Wilkinson Public Library Board of Trustees have drafted a fiscal plan to deal with a decline in revenues while minimizing the impact on the library’s services.
The first step in the plan for 2013 is closing the library on Sundays, starting Jan. 6. The five hours that the library was open on Sundays will be shifted to an earlier opening – at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. – Monday through Friday. Brattin said by shifting the hours to weekday mornings, the library will still be open the same total number of hours every week, and hopes it will provide more convenience for early risers and local parents who would like to use the facility after dropping their kids off at school.
“This will help us do the same with less,” Brattin said. “I guess that is the best way to describe it. I know it’s not perfect for those who wish they could come in on Sunday, but it will help. Sunday is definitely our least busy day.”
Like any effective service organization, Brattin said the library invests much of its budget in a well-trained, passionate staff who not only make customers feel welcome, but make them want to return time and again. But investing in a dedicated staff, she said, doesn’t come cheap – it is the most costly part of the library’s annual budget, consuming 66 percent of it.
Facing the projected revenue reductions, Brattin said, trustees will do everything they can to keep from cutting staff members, and shifting the Sunday hours to weekday mornings is part of that plan. She explained the decision in terms of diluting the library’s product.
“Think of our product as a high energy, nutritious drink that packs a punch,” she said. “By spreading the ingredients into seven bottles instead of six, you've diluted a very good product. In a perfect world, each bottle would deliver the same high quality, but when ingredients are in short supply, it's smarter to produce six high-quality bottles than dilute the product to fill seven bottles.”
The fiscal plan as set forth by the board for 2013 includes staying open 61 hours a week, minimizing staff reductions, and protecting the library’s financial health by managing its reserve fund to ensure it lasts through the economic downturn.
Going forward, any budget deficits will be handled by a formula that calls for one-third of the deficit to be met through budget cuts, one-third through reserve funding, and a third to be met through fundraising and “enterprise” librarianship (such as pursuing revenue streams related to selling programs on podcasts).
Through attrition, the library will reduce staff by 80 hours a week, which will amount to the loss of two full-time employees by the end of 2013.
“Basically, we are belt tightening right now,” Brattin said. “Everything we do in 2013 is in preparation for the huge revenue fall-out in 2014. Whatever we can save now will minimize the impact of 2014.”
Brattin said the decline in revenue is coming at an unfortunate time, as the library continues to be well used and is notably successful. In a recent study, it was named one of only 30 libraries nationwide that has earned the five-star designation from Library Journal five years in a row. As the busiest library per capita in Colorado, she said, the Wilkinson stands out among its peers for being an organization comfortable with change, passionate about service, and dedicated to the community.
On the second Wednesday of every month, community members are invited sit down and engage in a round table discussion with Brattin upstairs in the Telluride Room at 10 a.m. This is a chance to learn about the decision making process at the library and how it will continue to offer quality services and programs in the most efficient way possible. Coffee and light snacks will be provided.