Friday, January 26, 2001
Library asks for 27% increase over last year
Ellen Rauch of the Gleason Library presented a budget for Fiscal Year 2002 of $418,000, representing an increase of 27 percent over last year's budget of $329,600. Given that all town boards and agencies were given a guideline of a 3 percent increase for the FY02 budget, FinCom members were surprised by the size of the increase, and inclined to examine the library's numbers in detail. Three issues were of particular concern to the members: skyrocketing utility costs, the library's automation costs, and whether or not the proposed budget truly provided "level service" compared to the current budget.
Utility costs questioned
Not only were utility costs a concern but they are making it impossible for the library to stay within its budget for the current fiscal year. Current electric power costs are three times higher than was estimated for the current budget year. The utility line item in the proposed budget is based on current actual power costs, rather than on the previous estimate plus the 3 percent guideline increase.
FinCom members were skeptical that these high costs could be attributed solely to higher utility rates. They suggested that the library's actual electrical usage might be unreasonably high. Member David Trask asked how much the monthly actual usage was. "You really should know that," Trask said. "At the rates that I'm paying at my house, that would mean that each month you are using 18,000 kilowatt-hours per month."
FinCom chair Simon Platt suggested "Maybe someone here in the town offices could compare the kilowatt hours they are paying for this building [i.e. the Town Hall] I don't know if the numbers are high or low. Would Bob Koning or someone in town be able to go over there and investigate [the library's usage]?" Rauch replied, "I certainly could have an energy audit done; also I will go back and compare with other similarly-sized libraries to see if we really are using too much."
Cost of automation
FinCom members then turned their attention to a $19,000 line item for automation. Dave Trask asked, "Is there some reason why this is the same number [as last year]?" Rauch explained, "That is the actual number billed by the MVLC [Merrimack Valley Library Consortium]."
"Do you think the $19,000 is a good deal?" asked Trask. "We do," Rauch replied. "They operate the system. We get training and support. We couldn't afford a full-time person."
Members also questioned whether the library's proposed budget truly represented "level service" with the current year, noting that it called for the addition of a children's librarian. Rauch noted that the library was dealing with significantly increased demand. She indicated that there are more patrons using the library, and that they had had numerous complaints from patrons about the level of service provided. "What we feel is that we can't deliver the same level of service to an increased number of people," she said.
Simon Platt asked, "Do you have one or two libraries in similar-sized towns that you use as a benchmark? It would be a useful analysis to compare these numbers (such as for electricity, hours, and staffing) to ours." Rauch indicated that, although there are no directly comparable towns, she could find one or two that were close enough for useful comparison.
Platt summarized the FinCom's reaction to the proposed library budget by asking Rauch to go back and do further analysis either to see if some of the line items could be reduced, or to support the need for the numbers as they are. He asked for several specific areas to be examined: an energy audit, what is a true level-service budge, a benchmark against similar libraries, and putting the library's heat and electricity into the town's central budget.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito