That which cuts the deepest

Library cuts have many different points-of-view

 


In a June 16 interview, Carbon County Commissioners Lindy Glode and Sue Jones described themselves as strongly opposed to closing libraries, but would not back off sharp reductions in county funding to the library system.

The county indicates it will cut its mill levy funding to the Carbon County Library System Board (CCLSB) by close to 60 percent, from $558,295 in fiscal year 2016, to $225,000 for fiscal year 2017. Additional county funds of $42,000 from motor vehicle registrations were made available to the CCLSB in the days leading up to the board’s June 20 budget vote.

The CCLSB is funded through a complex web of different sources including grants, fees, an endowment from a 501 (c)(3) charity called the Carbon County Library Foundation and (typically the largest source of revenue), the Carbon County Mill Levy. The mill levy is paid for through property taxes, and, unlike money from the foundation or many grants, can be used for operating expenses like payroll.

“Our assessed valuation is down (nearly) $300 million – well that’s a huge impact on every budget,” explained Glode. “It’s not all about the library, nor are they the only ones taking the burden (of the revenue shortfall),” said Jones. According to the most recent estimates from the county assessor, Carbon County properties will have an assessed value of $590,047,588 in fiscal year 2017, down 29 percent from fiscal year 2016.


The commissioners offered a forceful rejoinder to a budget presented by CCLSB director Bobbie Morgan at an emergency meeting of the CCLSB June 13. At that meeting, Morgan concluded that with only $225,000 in funding from the Carbon County Mill Levy, it would not be possible to keep branch locations open.

At the time, Morgan said that under such austerities only the Rawlins location could remain open at reduced hours, while the system’s seven subsidiary branches would have to be closed. Morgan came to her conclusion after months spent preparing a series of steadily diminishing budgets for the CCLSB.

The director is a new arrival to Wyoming and has only held her position on the CCLSB since mid-April. A tense relationship between the CCLSB she heads and the commissioners whom that board relies on for much of its funding has defined Morgan’s time at the helm. Library employees have been resigning steadily as the budgetary crisis has come to a head over the past several months and fears for job security circulate among staff. CCLSB member Julie Evans also resigned her post rather than attend her last CCLSB board meeting June 20, as her term was set to expire July 1.

Though Morgan said June 13 that with only $225,000 in mill levy funding “(the CCLSB) cannot fiscally keep the branches open,” Glode and Jones dispute this assessment. “We hope they can make it work – we think they can make it work,” said Glode of the tightening.

“If they would run their main branches as efficiently as their outlying branches, I don’t think we’d have a problem,” Jones argued. Jones sees a bloated operation in Rawlins that sucks resources away from the better-appreciated satellite locales. Morgan says that she has already cut Rawlins staffing to the bone, and that the larger central support staff there is necessary to assist the smaller branches.

Though library employees work for the CCLSB, which operates independently of Carbon County, the CCLSB is largely funded through county taxes.

This independence was threatened June 15, when the commissioners told Morgan through the county clerk that $75,000 of the $225,000 mill levy would be specifically earmarked for the CCLSB’s outlying locations. Wyoming Statute 18–7–103.(2015) states in part “The control, use and disposition of the county library is entrusted to the county library board of directors which shall budget and expend the fund…”

According to Jones, the commissioners have never before issued directives about what the CCLSB–an ostensibly autonomous board–can spend its money on. “We never had the concern or the worry that the branches would be closed,” she said in explanation of the novel maneuver. Jones said that the county attorney reviewed the earmark and thinks it is legal.

“Personally, I don’t find (branch closures) an option at this point to even discuss. And when you discuss it, it makes it possible. And I don’t even think it should be possible,” Jones continued. She believes that with more volunteers and changes in procedure, all the libraries can be run on the smaller budget.

Even with reduced hours and services, a budget Morgan wrote as recently as June 20 listed the cost of operating the outlying branches at about $145,000 per year–close to double the amount earmarked for this purpose by the commissioners. She said at that time that keeping the branches operational with less funding was not feasible, and that the CCLSB was investigating the legality of the commissioners’ earmark with the Wyoming State Librarian.

At the June 13 CCLSB meeting, Morgan presented the libraries as the victims of disproportionate cuts. Morgan cited the county clerks office, among others, that have a smaller staff and larger payroll than the library system. As a percentage, the 60 percent cuts to the CCLSB dwarf cuts to almost every county department.

Jones and Glode argue that the steeper funding decline is to balance out years in which the CCLSB failed to trim overhead while other departments shrunk through attrition. “Over the last three years, the other departments have been expecting this, like Lindy says, and not filling positions,” Jones said. Glode said “(the CCLSB) has always gotten much more money than these other departments, and those other departments have questioned why.”

In a June 18 open letter to the community titled “One Library System, Not Branches vs. Rawlins” CCLSB president Joanne Whitson contested the notion that the CCLSB has escaped slashes in years past. From fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2016, Whitson wrote that CCLSB mill funding dropped 17 percent. Whitson said in the letter the most recent precipitous funding cuts “are in jeopardy of destroying the Carbon County Library System.”

Wyoming State Librarian Jamie Markus confirmed this grim outlook.

Markus presented himself as a neutral party who frequently consults with both county officials and library board members across the state. He cautioned that some number shifting is still possible and many budgets (including Carbon County’s) have yet to be finalized.

With those caveats in mind, however, Markus said statewide library cuts would probably end up averaging around 15 percent. At four times the statewide average, Markus described the proposed Carbon County Library mill levy cuts as “some of the worst in the state,” and was unable to name any system facing a steeper decline.

A new board-approved budget will keep library doors open for now, but public resources and services will become less available to Carbon County residents just as times get toughest.

 

Reader Comments
(0)

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2018

Rendered 12/17/2018 14:45