We have received many suggestions and questions from you, as we move toward a solution for the 2015 budget. We've compiled them and offer our responses here. We thank you!
Q: Many have asked how much more in taxes would be needed to maintain services at the current level at all three locations, and whether or not a referendum to increase taxes for this purpose have been explored.
A: While the idea of a referendum was proposed to the Branch Library Task Force, it was not strongly supported by its members. The additional tax burden on a $125,000 home in La Crosse to maintain services would come to less than $1 a month.
Q: Why don't we partner with the La Crosse County Library system, or make them pay for their residents' use?
A: The Mayor has opened a dialog with the county, asking for some level of funding in 2015. The idea of merging the city library service with the county's, has been studied at least five times in the past 20 years. Each time, the tax inequity between what city residents pay and what county residents pay, combined with issues related to equalizing salaries and benefits, resulted in no action to merge.
Q: How much does security cost?
A: The annual cost of the security service is approximately $60,000 for 52 hours of coverage each week.
Q: Were hours cuts at Main considered?
A: We did not look at cuts at Main for 2015. In 2012, Main hours were cut by 3 hours a week. Archives hours were reduced by 16 hours a week in 2012.
Q: How much does it cost per hour to operate Main?
A: For 2014, the per-hour cost of running Main, including Archives, is $1331.
Q: It is my understanding that the library has unspent money at the end of the fiscal year and that this money does not revert to the city budget, but is carried over to the next year. A) Is this correct? B) If so, can this money be applied to branch libraries? C) Is this accumulated carry-over money being set aside for other purposes?
A: Your understanding is correct. The so-called carryover funding has routinely been used over the last five years to maintain service levels, including keeping the branches open. In fact, over $200,000 of carryover has been encumbered this year for that purpose. The thing that must be kept in mind, however, is the variable nature of this fund. Over the past 10 years, the amount available in this fund has ranged from less than $70,000 to over $400,000, depending on whether or not there were resignations, retirements, or some other operational need. The bottom line is that the library has been essentially deficit spending for about six years in order to avoid reducing service. Because of this, the Library Board has not designated the carryover fund for any specific purpose.
Q: Where does the majority of the library board reside? Where does the director reside?
A: The majority (7 of 9 members) of the board resides in the City of La Crosse, as does the director. Statutes allow up to two board members to live outside the city limits.
Q: Why don't you charge people a fee for a library card?
A: State law prohibits libraries from charging for a library card for anyone who owns property and/or resides in the state. Iowa and Minnesota residents pay a fee for borrowing privileges.
Q: Why not hire out/rent out the library meeting rooms on a more regular basis?
A: The library meeting room is used heavily for library programming and library-related meetings, training sessions, etc., and is only available to outside groups around those needs. Further, since the reduction of evening hours at Main, many groups who previously used the meeting rooms in the evening, no longer wish to do so, as they must end their meeting before the library's 8 pm closing time.
Q: Can you charge people fee to attend your programs?
A: State law prohibits libraries from charging for attendance at library-sponsored programs.
Q: Why do you always have two checkout workers at the Main checkout desk when we can use self-check?
A: The two staff members at the front desk are frequently performing other tasks while scheduled at the desk. This includes clearing expired holds, answering and transferring phone calls, dealing with damaged or incomplete returns, taking money for fines, etc. Self-check has allowed the library to handle a 49% increase in circulation without having to add additional staff. In fact, there are occasionally times when both self-checks at Main are busy while both staff members are occupied with checking out.
Q: Could city and library work together and bring some senior services to South? I know senior centers struggle--could South offer multiple services?
A: Theoretically, yes; this has been part of the conversation with the task force. If this suggestion is to be implemented, however, the Mayor and City Council would take the lead on this and determine the level of funding for any additions or remodeling. They would also have to guide and facilitate the discussion between the library and the city department currently responsible for senior centers.
Q: You need to keep branch hours on the weekend. Could you split open hours, like 9-1, 3-6:30?
A: One of the hoped-for outcomes of the listening sessions is to get feedback on the hours. We are already amending the proposed schedule to include weekend hours.
Q: Have you looked into Americorps/VISTA to help with staffing? Could that relieve the burden?
A: Programs like AmeriCorps and VISTA are project-based and not a sustainable solution for day-to-day staffing. Should the Board direct staff to investigate Americorps Vista projects, it will be done. The Library does have a full-time Volunteer Coordinator who regularly recruits volunteers for a wide array of activities. At present, we have over 70 volunteers who, from January-June 2014, volunteered 1,335 hours. That's a cash value of $9,826, based on $7.25/hr!
Q: Could you divert some money from the high-tech equipment and professionals at Main to keep the branches open?
A: The budget for information technology has been frozen for two years. This is troubling, as so much of what all three library locations do now is reliant on updated computer hardware, software and expertise.
As to the professional staff: there has been a great deal of conversation about how many high-priced credentialed employees the library has. For the record: at present, the library as 17 full-and part-time employees with a Master's degree in Library & Information Science. One is the director, who is required by state law to hold the degree; four are department heads; two earned their degrees over several years while employed by the library; four replaced employees who had an MLS or other advanced degree, and four have worked for the library for more than 15 years. Of the remaining two, one replaced a non-degreed person and one was a new position created two years ago.
The unspoken assumption here is that we have been adding all these expensive credentialed people, when, in fact, we have been maintaining the status quo.