Library seeing potential gains in new fiscal year

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Personnel, storm damage pose financial challenges

When the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library board meets at 9 a.m. on Thursday at the Pierce City branch, board members will tackle a budget for the coming fiscal year with better numbers than were available at the last board meeting in June, and a clearer idea of stress points on the service.

According to Gina Milburn, director, the annual tax levy will provide some relief this year. Assessed valuation in the two counties served jumped by more than $66 million to $986,714.422. The property tax levy at the ceiling of 15 cents per $100 of assessed property will generate more than $1.2 million, based on a five-year average. If all taxes were paid, the district would receive $1,480,072. Milburn figured the district will receive around $100,000 more than the previous year.

The tax levy hearing will start Thursday’s meeting.

“Will that have a significant impact on our budget?” Milburn said. “Probably not. Our income has been pretty flat for several years.”

The board has the unenviable task of operating on a July-to-June fiscal year but working off property tax collected on a calendar year. Milburn said the tax dollars provide the district’s foundation for half the year, while state funding, representing about 2 percent of the budget, comes in on a different schedule. Through June 30, the library had income of $1,619,944.24 and spent $1,543,693.66. Milburn is proposing spending of $1,602,764.73 in the coming year.

Several maintenance issues not covered by the budget drove up spending as the fiscal year came to an end. The Monett branch lost a roof air conditioner that cost $22,000. The Marionville branch was struck by lightning twice, causing nearly $4,700 in damage to the electrical system and replacing several computers.

The Mt. Vernon branch had a tree split and fall onto the car of Cindy Rinker, branch supervisor. Loss of the tree was considered an act of God by the insurance company. The board voted to pay Rinker $1,500 for the damage to her car.

The proposed budget calls for additional spending due to a number of expense increases, such as utilities. Milburn noted demands for technology services continue to increase, especially on broadband capacity. The Monett branch, as the regional office, has a 50 megabyte capacity, up from 6 megabytes when Milburn arrived six years ago. The Cassville branch, with the installation of fiber optics through goBEC, now has 250 megabytes, which has stopped complaints there. Milburn explained Cassville serves as the district’s fail safe site, so that if the Monett branch lost its service, internet capacity could be switched to Cassville.

Generally, individual branches have 1.5 megbytes of bandwidth. Milburn would like all the branches to boost up to at least 3 megabytes. She would like to address demand for streaming video and music, but cannot justify taking money out of the book budget to support that boost.

As a plus, Milburn reported the district received a Library Services and Technology Grant to replace and upgrade the firewalls.

An ongoing issue Milburn hopes to address in the coming year will be personnel. The most pressing problem has been keeping a technology director. Noah Helterbrand submitted his resignation after a year. Milburn said even though the district has been paying between $50,000 and $55,000 a year for a technology director, the second highest paid position next to the director, the benefits have not been sufficient to compete with the private sector, and the tax levy does not support paying more.

“Our technology assistant, Leann Rosewicz, can handle day-to-day operations like circulation, general computers and integrated library services,” Milburn said. “She’s not trained in networks, servers and wifi. I’m looking at hiring a technology company for those services.”

The money spent on a technology director will go toward buying services from an outside firm.

Milburn saw additional issues pending with current personnel. Benefits, such as vacations, have not previously been available until after a year of service. Milburn plans to propose earning vacation time faster.

In addition, the district pays its clerks $7.70 an hour, the federal minimum wage. Recognizing discussions in the federal government to raise the minimum wage, and seeing local fast food restaurants paying $10 an hour at entry level, Milburn would like to incrementally increase that amount to compete in the marketplace. Other wages would have to be adjusted accordingly.

Milburn noted many of the district’s employees want to work part-time. She felt adjustments, such as sick leave, might provide more flexibility that would help the district keep staff.

Library services have seen no decline in activity. Milburn said May was the best month out of the first five in 2017. Circulation of 35,654 represented a boost of more than 3,500 over the previous year. Cassville had the top volume in May at 8,018 items circulated, compared to 6,788 each for Monett and Mt. Vernon.

Milburn also reported library staff have started sending email alerts to applicable customers for unreturned material. The response has been unexpectedly positive. A number of people have chosen to pay fines through PayPal. Several customers returned material marked as lost as far back as 2012.

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