TELLURIDE – Late last year the Wilkinson Public Library announced it would close on Sundays as part of an effort to close a looming budget deficit.
On Tuesday, the five members of Wilkinson’s Board of Trustees told a group of unhappy library patrons that the Sunday closure was likely to be just the first of even more painful service cuts the public will see, starting in 2014.
The reason, members of the board told a crowd of about forty in the Library Program Room, is that property tax revenue, already down since the start of the Great Recession, is projected to fall even more starting in 2014.
Tuesday’s special library board meeting, held jointly with the San Miguel County Commissioners, was held at the request of the commissioners, who said they have heard concerns from many of their constituents about the Sunday closure.
The five members of the library board (Judy Thompson, John Wontrobski, Brandt Garber, Seth Cagin and Theresa Westman) are appointed to five-year terms by the county commissioners, although the commissioners have no formal role beyond that in governing the library.
The library’s budget deficit was projected to be approximately $375,000 in 2014, according to a presentation Tuesday by Board President Thompson. Despite closing on Sundays throughout 2013 and other budget measures the board already approved for the coming year, the projected deficit for 2014 is $300,000.
But a number of library patrons said on Tuesday that if cuts are necessary, they would favor cuts other than the Sunday closure. Several described Sunday hours as one of the library’s core functions.
“I am a major library user three out of every four Sundays,” said Susanna Hoffman, who has written “ten books and two movies” and is currently working on “three more books.
“This is where I work and I research, and this is where I find quiet.” Like “many people in Telluride,” Hoffman said, “I have a very small house, and there is no room for me to have an office.
“I’m an anthropologist,” said Hoffman, “and I understand all the issues about finances.” That said, however, “Once again, I’m seeing numbers being placed above community,” said Hoffman. She went on to suggest that the library stop accommodating “the 9 a.m. dropping off for childcare of sick kids whose parents want to go to work.”
Many speakers insisted that the library should focus on its most traditional activities – namely buying and lending books and maintaining a quiet atmosphere – and that instead of closing on Sundays, cuts should come from the reduction of noisy youth services and programming.
Putting precious funds toward “DVDs and CDs and video games and daycare centers for latchkey kids is not a sacred cow,” declared Harold Wondsel, suggesting instead that the words Information, Knowledge and Wisdom, which “are, I hate to tell you carved in stone” over the building’s front door, are sacrosanct.
Ty Benson, a seven-year library employee (who was, he explained, recently terminated), suggested that key library administrators earn too-high salaries, with “ten percent,” or $235,000, “of the library’s 2013 budget,” he said, reading from a prepared statement, “going to two employees,” its director and business office manager. Benson’s comments received a smattering of applause.
In a similar vein, Telluride resident Eileen McGinley rejected the library board’s explanation that compensation surveys regularly commissioned by the library suggest Wilkinson salaries and benefits are in line with those of comparably sized libraries. McGinley pronounced the fact that “a compensation consultant” was required “to decide how much to pay [Director] Barbara Brattin” nonsensical. “All you have to look at is what your income is going to be,” before setting salaries, she said, going on to call for “a change in upper management, and even a board change, unless you can begin thinking like a community.”
The board gave no indication on Tuesday whether it would reverse its decision to close on Sundays, but invited those in the audience to attend its regular monthly meeting today (Thursday), at 3 p.m.
All five boardmembers addressed Tuesday’s gathering, emphasizing that the board has adopted a three-part policy of closing the 2014 budget deficit, with one-third coming from budget cuts, one-third addressed by drawing down the reserve fund and the final one-third coming from new revenues.
Those new revenues could come from the charging of fees for some library services now offered without charge (suggestions from audience speakers ranged from charging for parking in the garage below the library to charging for video rentals), from new revenue-generating activities and from fundraising.
Watch publisher Seth Cagin is a member of the San Miguel Library District Board of Trustees. Watch editor Marta Tarbell, who reported this story, is married to Cagin.