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Budgets & Cutbacks

December 6, 2002

“Budget” sounds dangerously close to “fudge it” — perhaps too close for comfort in these days of cutbacks and “cooked books.”

Right now, cutbacks are not necessary for the Salida Regional Library, and as for cooked books … I’ll resist the lure of a bad joke. In any case, the library’s books are audited every year. (Wait … so were Enron’s …)

Instead, I shall talk about budget and service increases.

Mail editor Pat Windolph inquired about the library’s circumstances, wondering if she should cover our budget meeting. She was thinking of budget problems suffered by many Colorado governments and of the cuts in state library funding made earlier this year.

I had the pleasure of replying that a visit would be fine but that the real story was not what she imagined. The Southern Chaffee County Regional Library District (see why we don’t use that name?) is in good shape.

There are several reasons for this. A fiscally conservative library board, for one. Good support from voters in the district, for another. Seven years of local growth. Proximity to the Crestone universal energy node.

And the fact that the library district is supported largely through property tax revenue, as opposed to sales tax revenue. The former is less fickle than the latter.

This year, our revenue breaks down as: property tax, 75%; specific ownership taxes, 17%; and donations, fines, fees, grants, and everything else, 8%.

Last year, the “Everything else” category made up 17%, mostly because of a large bequest and some state grants.

For 2003, we have budgeted total revenues of $430,799, with property tax totaling 77%, specific ownership taxes, 16%.

Our budget for the general fund just fits in a spreadsheet on a piece of legal-sized paper. I’ve kept it that way for convenience; however, it needs to expand.

A budget is a useful tool for management, but government budgets are also legal documents. They are declarations to taxpayers of the plans to spend their money.

In 1995, voters approved a tax increase for the library district. In the seven years since then, the library has grown in every way but one (its telephone bill).

We have more square footage, up 220%, and hours of operation have grown from 40 to 70 hours per week, up 175%.

Compare the change in some budget numbers, as well:

Books: $11,000 in 1995; $70,000 in 2003, up 636% Audio-visual stuff: $1,000 to $12,500, up 1250% Magazines and newspapers: $7,000 to $9500, up 135%

Of course, all expenses have gone up.

Salaries: $80,480 in 1995; $174,193 in 2003, up 216% Insurance: $2060 to $8500, up 412% Utilities: $3000 in 1994, $8265 in 2001, up 275%

The growth of library service was made possible by the growth of library revenue. Yes, money matters.

Here’s a fun and curious fact: In 1994 we spent $1421 on telephone charges, and in 2001, $1377.

It is instructive to look at what is in our budget now that was not there in 1995: courier service, electronic subscriptions, high-speed Internet access, archives, digitization, DVDs, library automation system, network services, software.

Money matters, but so do people. We’ve upped staffing a fraction for next year, so that we will have an average of 3.5 people scheduled per hour the library is open, not counting vacations and sick days.

We’ve managed to cover 70 hours per week, 357 days per year, with a fairly small staff doing a lot of different things.

I’m pleased. I hope you are, too.

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