The Saratoga Sun -

Library addresses funding cuts

 


Two Carbon County Commissioners, one town clerk, one Carbon County Economic Development Board member, four Carbon County Library System Board (CCLSB) members and the local librarian attended a June 2 meeting at the Encampment Library. The officials joined about 30 concerned patrons for a brainstorming session on how to deal with looming cutbacks in funding for the Encampment library and Carbon County libraries as a whole.

CCLSB director Bobbie Morgan summed things up by saying, “I think we’re just all without money at the moment, which is the problem.” Morgan began serving as director in April of this year and inherited a challenging set of circumstances including multiple resignations and ongoing budgetary distress.

During a May meeting of the Carbon County Commissioners, the county told the CCLSB that its contributions would be 30 percent lower for fiscal year 2017 than they were in fiscal year 2016. The CCLSB then submitted a budget that includes a 28 percent decrease in county funding, and is waiting to hear whether or not this slightly higher budget will be accepted by the commissioners. Fiscal year 2017 begins on July 1, and a final operating budget will have to be agreed upon before then.

As explained by CCLSB chair Joanne Whitson, the meeting in Encampment was held to figure out how the library system can be maintained and improved with limited funds. After announcing steep reductions in hours and services a week ago, the CCLSB scheduled a series of meetings to discuss mitigation strategies at each of the system’s eight branch locations. The meeting in Encampment was the first of these community meetings, and many attendees seemed blindsided by the deep cuts.

“It would have been nice to have seen quicker than this that there was this issue coming up at the eleventh hour,” Encampment Town clerk Doreen Harvey noted. She added that although Encampment is facing its own 21 percent county funding reduction, town officials would have liked more advance notice that the local library would be confronting such drastic cuts. Harvey explained that Encampment’s budget has to be finalized by June 9, leaving little time to discuss the library situation.

The budget submitted by the CCSLB says that, effective July 1, the Encampment branch will be open 15 hours per week, down from its current 20 hours weekly. Each of the other eight branch locations will also be facing hour reductions, with the flagship location in Rawlins losing the most with a 16-hour decrease and Saratoga close behind at 10 hours less per week.

Carbon County is not alone in facing these difficulties. With revenues from coal and oil down, “Every county in the state is short,” county commissioner Sue Jones said. Jones said that the county had a statutory responsibility to provide basic services to residents, but “Unfortunately, some of those other things are out there on the fringes and are unfortunately going to get hit (with cuts).”

Jones appeared confident there was fat to be trimmed from the library system. “We went through our (Carbon County) budget last year and cut $3 million – and it was there,” she said. With the tide of red ink rising steadily, Jones sees the belt-tightening as a new norm for the community, saying “It’s certainly not going to be like it was–not today, maybe not next year.”

CCSLB director Bobbie Morgan took pains to show her willingness to work with the commissioners, but appeared distressed by the extent of reductions. Morgan noted that while most similarly-sized library systems statewide were facing cutbacks of 8 to 15 percent, the Carbon County system was facing a 30 percent shortfall.

For comparison, slides in the CCSLB presentation included 2014 library budgets for Lincoln, Converse, Sublet, and Teton counties, which have similar populations to Carbon County. Although Carbon County boasts the largest number of branch locations of these counties with eight, its 2014 operating budget was the smallest at just under $700,000 per year. The budget for Converse that year (two branches) was roughly $980,000. For Sublet (two branches) it was $1.24 million and Lincoln’s six branches received about $1.37 million. The two libraries in Teton County got $3.16 million in 2014.

The slide also showed that Carbon County library staff are among the lowest paid in the state, which Morgan says makes it difficult to find qualified candidates to fill jobs. Morgan said this could be an issue because, “We are losing (staff) rapidly right now. Because they’re afraid their jobs are going to get cut and they’ve heard all the rumors and they’re all looking for new jobs.” Morgan spoke of struggling to deal with losing three librarians in a two week span.

Though the budgetary back and forth has been going on for some months now, this was the first time many patrons were learning of the impact these reductions would have in their town. Several offered full-throated testimonials to the importance of the institution in their lives. “Libraries have been the foundation of communities for 200 years,” Encampment resident Nick Casson said at the meeting. “Where are youth going to learn to use books and treasure the value of reading a book (if not there)?” he asked.

“There’s not a Monday that goes by that I don’t see four or five different younger mothers with little kids come in,” Encampment resident Jana Cor chimed in.

Other residents spoke of fixing cars with the help of library manuals, accessing internet unavailable at their homes or using the library as a meeting space in an area with few alternatives. “You say that some of these meetings can be held anywhere, but we don’t have an anywhere, you know, in Baggs and Dixon and Hanna,” said one attendee.

Had they not rescheduled to accommodate the library meeting in Encampment, a local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter would have been in the conference room Thursday evening.

After each attendee shared what they valued or didn’t value at the library (commissioner Jones said she was “not a library user”), a free-wheeling discussion of possible solutions was opened up. Several residents suggested that Sinclair Refinery or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may be willing to pitch in as corporate benefactors. Community fundraising efforts such as bake sales and car washes were likewise offered up as a way of gathering money.

Obtaining grants from federal agencies or charitable organizations was also discussed as a fix, but several CCSLB members pointed out a problem: “Most grants do not cover salaries. And that’s where we have no money – we have the money for books,” said Whitson. “You can fund the fancy things (with grant money) but you can’t fund the basics of running a library,” added Morgan.

One concrete step that was agreed upon June 2 was to restart a 501(c)(3) “Friends of the Library” fundraising organization for the Encampment Library. This will allow donors to funnel their contributions directly to the Encampment Library, instead of to the library system as a whole. The 501(c)(3) status will also make any donations tax-deductible.

Resident Jana Cor agreed to head up this initiative, and those interested in helping out should contact her at cor4009@msn.com.

At the end of the meeting many attendees thanked Encampment librarian Dawna Martin for her help and service.

Addressing the CCLSB members present,Carbon County commissioner Lindy Glode said “I commend you for what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to do.” With revenues barely trickling into state coffers, it will take good will and cooperation on all sides to provide residents with the services they need.

 

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