Library system in budget tight spot

Posted: April 7, 2014

The Winchester Star

Handley Regional Library is already struggling to keep its technology updated because of budget constraints. Director John Huddy spent $600 of his own money to buy used flat-screen monitors to make the library look more modern.

Winchester — Without a drastic change, Handley Regional Library is facing its next fiscal budget $20,000 in the hole and with a staff that hasn’t had a raise since 2008, according to library Director John Huddy.

The library system is requesting a $74,000 combined increase in funding from Frederick and Clarke counties to help meet a proposed budget of $2,142,011 for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, Huddy said. The increase would help provide pay raises to employees. The library system has 60 staff members.

The current operating budget for the library system, which has branches in the City of Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties, is $2,130,796.

The Frederick and Clarke county governments haven’t finalized their budgets, but the two localities’ proposed spending plans show the library system’s requests will either not be met or not met in full, Huddy said.

“We appreciate the support we are getting,” he said. “We just want a small amount of more money to make ends meet and motivate staff to give the best service possible.”

Ann White, the library system’s business manager, said the library system comes up short $20,000 to $25,000 every year but normally makes up the difference with a large donation.

“This coming year, we haven’t had that donation,” White said.

If the library system can’t come up with money it needs in FY15, “We’ll just have to nickel and dime every little place that we can find ... of course, we’re trying to protect staff as much as we can,” White said.

Jointly funded

The library system is a jointly funded agency with an agreement with the City of Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties, Huddy said. Each locality agrees to pay a certain percentage based on use of the library system.

Frederick County has the highest use at 63.23 percent, while Winchester is at 22.06 percent and Clarke County is 14.71 percent, he said.

Winchester’s contribution of $390,334 is above its required percentage, so no increase was requested of the city, Huddy said. But the library is requesting $862,665 from Frederick County, an increase of $61,615 from fiscal year 2014, and $195,675 from Clarke County, an increase of $13,556 “to help level the playing field.”

Because of budget constraints, Frederick’s Board of Supervisors made an “across the board” decision to keep all 20 outside agencies it funds at present levels, said Jennifer Place, the county’s budget analyst/risk manager. “The library was just like any other agency that was kept at present level.”

In fact, the proposed budget for Frederick County calls for giving the library system $1,050 less in FY15, because the FY14 amount was rounded down, she said.

Clarke County’s proposed budget calls for giving the library system $2,881 instead of the requested $13,556, Huddy said.

Generally, with jointly funded agencies such as the library, Clarke County has a formula for funding that ties into what the other government agencies involved contribute, Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert said.

“The rationale is we are all in it together, and we try to have a formula that is fair to everybody,” he said. “If the amount of funding is not available because one locality reduces its funding level, that could result in another locality reducing its funding.”

Hobert added that Clarke County is a big supporter of the library system and the “fine work they are doing in Clarke County” and recognizes that usage has increased in the last few years. “These are difficult times for a lot of nonprofit organizations and we are all doing the best we can.”

Huddy said he understands budgets are tight and people aren’t “flush with money,” but the services the library provides touches thousands of local citizens, and he thinks it deserves more consideration.

The library isn’t asking to get back to pre-recession numbers — the 2008-09 combined local government contributions were $270,617 more than in 2013-14 — but to meet its needs now, Huddy said.

Handley Regional Library system ranks 74th out of 90 public libraries in Virginia in per capita spending, Huddy said.

The library did a comparison of other Virginia libraries with similar demographics and how much their localities contribute.

A few comparisons were drawn singling out Frederick County, with a population served of 81,207 people and a contribution of $801,050 in the current budget year. That is $9.86 a person.

Samuels Public Library in Warren County receives $770,000 to serve 36,472 people, which is $21.11 per person.

What this means

Every dime the library receives “is used to its maximum benefit,” Huddy said.

Since the recession, funding and giving have dropped drastically, and the library has “cut spending to the bone,” he said.

In August 2010, the library had to institute four staff furlough days because it was unable to fully meet its costs, White said. The library has also cut employee hours and reduced library hours in the last few years.

“Last year’s 100th anniversary gala [for the library] and book helped close the gap, but we can’t have a 100th anniversary each year,” White said.

Huddy said he wants to avoid furlough days at all cost and that if the library cuts any more hours, it would jeopardize its state funding, which was almost $354,000 in FY14. That leaves cutting in other areas such as books and materials, staff training, and improving technology. It also means leaving vacant positions unfilled, which creates more work for other employees.

It’s hard when the library is working with often outmoded equipment and struggling to provide services to have to go back and cut more, Huddy said. “It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul to stay afloat.”

He gave an example of the library’s computers, which had outdated monitors that made the library look like it was operating in the past. To make it look more modern, he spent $600 out of his own pocket to purchase a number of used flat-screen monitors.

“Our mission is to be a place where you come and learn things, including technology, and we were behind the times,” he said.

Fundraisers are not a reliable source of steady income because they can vary in the amount they raise from year to year and some even lose money, Huddy said.

The library is taking a closer look at its fundraisers and cutting ones that weren’t profitable. One example is the library’s Edible Books Festival, which was changed this year from a fundraiser with an adult component to a children’s program with sponsors for the prizes.

“We cannot rely on fundraising to save our bacon,” he said.

The library has partnerships with other agencies to provide services at almost no cost to the public, he said, but “for the actual mission of providing materials and information services to the public, we are not making ends meet.”

Huddy will meet with the library board of trustees in May to discuss possible fundraising options, board Chairwoman Cary Claytor said.

The library is very fiscally conservative already and is not wasting money, so it can be a hard decision sometimes to figure out how to “make every dollar work for us in a positive manner,” she said.

One goal right now is to educate the community about what the library is and does and the services it provides, Claytor said. “We reach all levels of the population. We are not targeted to just youth or young adults or middle age or elderly. We are across all of those cross sections.”

Salary issues

The library currently has 60 employees, with 16 full time and the rest part time at anywhere from 16 to 33 hours a week, Huddy said.

With no increase in pay since July 2008, yet saddled with increases in health insurance and changes in the Virginia Retirement System, library employees are bringing home anywhere from 3 to 14 percent less in 2014 than in 2008, depending on their salary level, he said.

Prior to budget cuts in 2009 and 2010, the library was covering health insurance fees at 100 percent, White said. Employees have had to pick up a portion with the maximum at 20 percent, which is where they are now. Without an increase in pay to offset those rising costs, the average take home salary has dropped.

These are not high salaries to begin with, Huddy said. The starting salary for a library page is slightly above minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. The Clarke County branch manager position makes under $14 an hour.

A part-time bus driver with Winchester Public Schools, needing a high school diploma or GED, makes $12.79 an hour, he said. A library reference assistant with a four-year degree starts at $12.42 an hour.

“I want them to have a living wage,” said Huddy, who took a $7,000 pay cut when he left his position as a branch manager in Loudoun County to work at Handley.

Huddy’s worry as director is that if this trend continues, the library will fall too far behind and he will be trying to motivate a staff that isn’t making a competitive wage. No matter how much they like their jobs, if they don’t feel appreciated, they “may start looking for another place to work” if things don’t improve, he said.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com