TRI-COUNTY AREA – While the Great Recession appears to be easing in various sectors of the economy – spending, housing, confidence – its delayed-reaction effects are just ramping up for area library districts.
The Montrose Library District took a 9 percent hit in tax funding this year over 2012 and expects a drop of 15 percent – $245,000 less in public money each year for 2014 and 2015 – when property tax revenues come in.
Telluride’s Library is seeing similar projected funding cuts, down $348,000, or 15 percent next year as compared with this year.
Ridgway and Ouray, with considerably smaller budgets to start with, are seeing similar percentage reductions.
Development Officer Amy McBride described the budget trimming process at the Montrose libraries as “brutal.”
“We need to trim $410,000 out of the budget. What would you cut? Would you do away with the Bookmobile and save $27,000? We could close the Naturita branch altogether and save $125,000 a year. Would you close the libraries for one day a week and save $66,000?”
In fact, McBride and Library Director Paul Paladino hosted two public forums this week (Tuesday and Wednesday nights, April 30 and May 1) to put these hard questions to library patrons and supporters. “Paul used our staff as guinea pigs last week, made us fill out worksheets to find the necessary savings. We need to decide, what do we need to do right now?”
In anticipation of the big 2014 drop, Telluride Wilkinson Library’s Director Barbara Brattin told The Watch, “We are trying to save as much money as possible up front. We certainly want to do everything we can to protect everything we can.” The Wilkinson has not replaced two full-time employees who have moved on, generating a savings of about $100,000. And it has made the decision to close on Sundays, though it has added an hour in the morning each weekday.
The reason the funding drops are coming now is tied to the delayed nature of assessed valuations. The revaluing of property by county assessors happens every two years on even numbered years. Then that valuation is used to figure tax bills for the following two years. Market values may have leveled off or begun to creep back up, but the most recent valuation, set for 2012 using 2011 sales statistics, reflects the bottom of the housing market. Districts like libraries and fire departments, with fixed mil levies, are seeing their revenues fall years after the valuation was made.
Paladino, in a release, sees “equally bleak projections for 2016 and 2017.”
What to do? All of the libraries are seeing increased usage. Visitor numbers are up. Registered borrowers are up. Book and video circulation is up. Libraries are finding and filling new roles that patrons want, even demand: kids after-school programs, reading programs, computer access, adult-education programs.
“And we’re doing it all with fewer resources,” said McBride.
Ouray’s library has by far the smallest operating budget of the four at about $83,000 this year. But that, according to Library Director Chris Reese, is “down about $10,000 from 2011-2012.” The difference, Reese said, has been largely made up by the Friends of the Library, “who give us a nice donation.”
“We have had to make cuts in book purchases, audios, videos, all that,” Reese said. “And the public might have to help cover our summer reading programs for kids pre-school to young adults.
“We’ve managed to stay open the same number of hours [this year],” she said. “If it [funding from the mill levy] goes down again we’ll just do what we can as far as cuts. We rely on the kindness of our patrons.”
Ridgway, too, has a “very active” Friends group, according to library director Kristen Moberg. “They’re planning a big fundraiser for our 10th anniversary this year.”
Moberg is confident that “in the big picture, Ridgway is doing fine. We’re just starting to feel the projected pinch.” Though the library did see a $10,000 drop in funding, from $349,000 in 2012 to $339,000 this year.
“It will hit harder next go round,” she said. “We’re bracing for that, if the projections are correct and we see a 15-20 percent reduction. But then things will stabilize eventually and we hope to get back on track.
“I’m very confident we will be keeping the library open the hours it’s been open and keep the services we have. We’re all going to have to tighten our belts a little bit.”
The bigger libraries, Montrose and Telluride, with annual budgets in the $2 million range, are facing bigger trims. The Wilkinson’s board has set a goal of covering one-third of the shortfall from savings, one-third from budget cuts, and one-third through fundraising. “Although that is a hard sell in Telluride,” Brattin said, “with so many worthy nonprofits with their hands out.”
So far the plan seems to be working. “We’re down about 88 staff hours a week,” Brattin said. “And we have Carlos Nakai [the Navajo/Ute flautist] coming for a fundraiser in July. Among other things.” The library is actively seeking patron input on priorities and strategies.
In Montrose, McBride told The Watch, the $165,000 shortfall this year was made up with “$93,000 pulled from reserves and some cuts in the budget.” The really big, really hard cuts will come next year.
“Delta is in worse trouble than we are,” McBride said, without cheer. “They have five libraries, and they are looking at a 30 percent cut” in tax money.