Library District explains revenue losses, next steps
The Welcome Brochure, handed to every new library customer, advertises opportunities to “Read, Relax, Explore and Learn, Dream, Discover and Connect”. The branch libraries of Grand County Library District in Fraser, Granby, Grand Lake, Kremmling and Hot Sulphur, fulfill the promise to all who enter – Grand County residents, visitors or second home owners alike.
Friendly, knowledgeable librarians, inviting shelves of books, DVDs, music, magazines, broadband access and attractive spaces to meet, study or socialize are an essential part of the landscape in the lives of Grand County residents. However, the community’s expectation that quality library services are the norm, has created a vulnerability for the organization. Some are left surprised, and upset as the Grand County Library Board and staff face unprecedented decisions in the face of additional steep revenue losses starting in 2017.
The economic recession, beginning in 2008, quickly impacted property values in Grand County with the consequent loss to library revenues. The losses were offset by downsizing and streamlining library staff and services. The failed 2013 Library mil levy proposal, was an attempt to place the District back on a sustainable footing. There is little appetite for property tax increases in Grand County with no mil levy increase since 2003 when voters approved a 2-mil levy to support Emergency Medical Services.
In 2014, as a result of the failed proposal, the Library District reduced library staff by 35 percent and 51 percent of administrative staff in a move to downsize and control costs. This followed incremental cut backs to staffing levels which started in 2010. The staff reductions impacted adult, youth and early education programming, customer service and open hours in all the branches. These economies were extremely unpopular at the time. Further staff reductions in 2017 are under consideration.
Some confusion may arise from the fact that people are unclear on how the Library District is funded. “There are those who think our libraries are entirely supported by private donations, or believe they are administered and funded by the County,” said Kim Jensen, Library Board President.
In fact, Grand County Library District is a Title 24, Special District which was voted into existence in November 1994 by the voters of Grand County with a mil levy of 2.41 based on property taxes. The Library District has not received an increase to the mil levy since its inception twenty one years ago. And yet, things have changed significantly over the years and costs have increased. The hourly wage for librarians in 1995 was $5.50 per hour, internet and wi-fi usage was unheard of inside library buildings and library books and materials were rarely shared outside the County. The idea of an online library user was unimaginable.
The largest property tax payer in the county is the Henderson Mill which made up 14 percent of the property tax revenues for the Library District in 2016. Information from the Henderson mining and milling production owner Freeport-McMoRan indicates that operations will be curtailed and production will cease entirely in three to five years. The County’s decision to change the averaging of property tax revenues from the Henderson Mill from five years to three years, has compounded the revenue losses for the Library District..
The District is now faced with rightsizing the organization to accommodate an overall 50 percent loss of revenues since 2012. Shocking figures for any organization. The Board must take immediate and effective measures towards balancing the budget and controlling deficit spending. As a starting point, the current organizational structure is not sustainable and must be modified. For instance, 30 percent of the budget is allocated to maintaining the library facilities, as revenues decrease this percentage continues to increase. The population base in Grand County according to the 2010 Census is 14,500 – served by five branch libraries. Library Districts across the Western Slope with similar population bases, typically operate from a single main library. A disproportionate percentage of library revenues are dedicated to duplicating services in each branch and maintaining five widely dispersed buildings. Additionally, few people are aware that Colorado State Library Standards requires a minimum of 20 hours per week in each branch and paid staff present during all hours of service. These requirements make it difficult to operate branches at minimum open hours.
“The question is no longer creating greater internal efficiencies, rather one of realigning library services with the reality of current finances,” said Nancy Knoohuizen, Library Board Treasurer.
The direction the Library Board has chosen to adopt in an attempt to live within limited funds and meet customer preferences was outlined in the 2014 GCLD Community Survey. The Board aims at maintaining quality library services at accessible locations, shifting some financial resources away from the support of buildings, while continuing to find opportunities to increase efficiencies. The careful process of arriving at these decisions included a close look at usage statistics. To name one, in 2015 – there were 44, 347 visits to the Fraser Library, 28,128 in Grand Lake, 21,939 in Kremmling and 8,902 visits to the Hot Sulphur Library, while ten miles away at the Granby Library there were 58,391.
Realigning the District with revenues will result in reductions to library services. This will need to continue as long as revenues decline and costs increase. The immediate steps under consideration include: savings in the 2016 budget, closure of a branch, reducing staff hours, followed by leasing the District Administrative building and potential downsizing of two of the smaller branches.
Maureen Sullivan, president elect of the American Library Association said “people don’t realize how essential their public library is until it is too late”.
It is the hope of the Library Board that incremental cuts to the budget starting in 2016 will preserve the Grand County Library District for the future.
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After their soccer game Saturday, the Grand County Wildcats suited up for a very different type of game.