Basalt library adjusts hours, spending to answer critics
BASALT – The embattled executive director of the Basalt Library District disarmed some criticism last night with recommendations to restore hours of operation and increase spending on books, DVDs, CDs and other collections materials.
Kristen Becker advised the library’s finance committee to increase the hours of operation to 55 hours from 51 hours per week in 2012. That will add about $24,000 to next year’s budget, but it addresses patrons’ concerns, Becker said. If the full library district board adopts the measure, as expected, the hours of operation would be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; noon to 5 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The board will assess the hours at the end of 2012.
Becker also recommended increasing the expenditure for collections additions from $89,516 to $100,000 in 2012. The library district devoted nearly $107,000 to the collections budget in 2011.
Anne Freedman, a Basalt councilwoman and member of an informal group seeking reforms at the library, welcomed the increased spending. She said the library district still has sufficient reserves so it can afford spending more on its collections.
However, Freedman said the library district’s administration and board of directors still need to assess priorities in the budget. Freedman said her research shows that libraries should spend about 30 percent of their budget on additions to the collections. Basalt is spending 10 percent. It often doesn’t have latest bestsellers and cannot always get them quickly despite cooperative agreements with other libraries.
Becker provided material at the meeting indicating that Basalt’s expenditure of $7.85 per person in the library district on collections in 2012 places it in the 95th percentile in spending among public libraries in Colorado.
The library district, like all government entities, is feeling the financial pinch of plummeting property tax revenues. Revenues are expected to drop from $1.47 million this year to $971,830. Becker said the district anticipated the drop since 2009 and stashed reserve funds and spent conservatively.
The 2012 proposed budget reduces spending to $1.14 million from $1.57 million. The district will dip into its reserve fund for nearly $67,000 next year.
At the same time revenues fell, the library experienced growing pains. On Jan. 9, 2010, it moved from a 3,000-square-foot site in Lions Parks in Basalt to the 21,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility by the post office. The district is essentially trying to run a facility seven times larger on about the same revenues.
Despite the challenges, Becker said she feels that the library has added a lot to the community, especially through after-school youth programs that attract up to 50 kids at any given time and through a music program that presents concerts popular with adults.
She acknowledged that the library could be in for tougher times if revenues don’t bounce back. Revenues could drop another 10 to 20 percent by 2014, she wrote in a memo to the finance committee. “Therefore, I feel we should be very prudent in our spending now, especially since many libraries are cutting days out of their service hours,” she wrote.
She suggested that the library district hold meetings to encourage taxpayers to offer advice on how to balance hours and programs with the prospect of declining revenues. If property values don’t bounce back, thus producing more property tax revenues, the library district likely will have to approach voters for a tax increase by 2015, she said.
Becker has also come under fire from critics for her salary and a housing stipend. She is paid $105,000 and receives a $30,000 housing stipend. Becker said she and board members agreed that it would be fair for her to surrender a third of the housing stipend since revenues have dropped by 34 percent.
As for her salary, Becker said it was never negotiated. She was hired at the high end of the salary range. She said it is unfair for critics to expect her to surrender salary, especially since it is at the amount for the Garfield County Library executive director and less than the salary of the Pitkin County Library executive director.
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