Basalt library budget dips into reserves for $50,000
December 13, 2011
BASALT – A final hearing for the Basalt library’s 2012 budget triggered a sometimes contentious meeting Monday between the district’s board of directors and roughly 35 residents who attended.
The board approved a budget of about $1.1 million that will require dipping into reserves for nearly $50,000. Amendments that altered the spending projections flew around faster than Tim Tebow passes in the fourth quarter of a Denver Broncos football game. Different board members tried to put their particular spin on the budget.
Several members of the audience also tried to make their mark on the budget. Some speakers demanded that the board make deeper cuts in the salary and benefits package of Kristen Becker, the library executive director who has been a target of a citizens group that is unhappy with many practices at the facility.
Becker has a base salary of $105,000 and had a housing allowance of $30,000. The board of directors offered her a contract that reduces the housing stipend to $20,000. That wasn’t enough for some audience members.
“There’s no need for someone making over $105,000 getting a housing allowance,” said Anne Freedman, a member of the Basalt Town Council.
Valerie Welch, a former library board member, said Becker was offered the housing allowance three years ago, when economic conditions in the Roaring Fork Valley were considerably different. That perk was necessary to attract a candidate.
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“A reduction of $10,000 is a start,” Welch said. But she proposed eliminating the entire stipend so that the library district could eliminate a big chunk of its proposed budget deficit for 2012.
Cil Klamper said she wanted Becker’s salary and benefits package reduced because the library is facing such tough economic times due to loss of revenue with property values dropping during the Great Recession. She said it is nothing against Becker personally.
“It’s too high, too much [even] if Kristen walked on water,” Klamper said. “We can’t afford it.”
Klamper later added, “You don’t drive your Mercedes if you can’t afford it.”
Becker’s proposed contract for 2012 also includes a reduction of health care benefits of about $8,000. Her benefits package for this year totaled about $15,000.
Board member Liz Gremillion said it would be “irresponsible” not to propose eliminating Becker’s housing allowance, given the comments from the audience. Board member Taylor Liebmann countered that Becker’s allowance is already getting reduced. It would be unfair to eliminate the entire amount all at once, he said.
Liebmann credited Becker for being an “excellent leader.” He suggested she is being targeted for a reduction because some community members don’t get along well with her and have problems with her management style.
“She’s not going to be voted Ms. Popularity or Ms. Congeniality,” Liebmann said. “She’s done a great job, and I don’t want to see her leave.”
Board president Judy Royer agreed that there was a fairness consideration to reducing Becker’s compensation package too drastically. The move to reduce Becker’s full housing stipend failed by a 5-2 vote.
Audience members were critical of the library’s proposed budget on several other fronts. Freedman said a major board focus should be increasing hours of operation. The library could save money by reducing the number of staff members on duty at many times of the day.
Audience member Charles Sailor said the budget wasn’t professionally prepared. He noted several errors in calculations and questioned how budget projections for everything from janitorial supplies to landscaping and utilities were figured.
“We need a library that functions. Right now it’s dysfunctional,” Sailor said.
He struck a popular chord with the audience when he urged the board to avoid implementing a fee for services for library patrons who live outside the district. The fee was supposed to take effect Jan. 1 for services such as checking out a book. The district projected the fee would raise about $4,200 next year.
“It’s not what we need to be doing as citizens of the valley,” Sailor said.
The board ultimately agreed, overturning its decision to implement the fee.
Some of the board members appeared exacerbated with audience demands to cut some budget items and beef up or restore others.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s ‘whack-a-mole,'” board member Steve Rittvo said. For every audience member making one demand, there is another making the opposite demand, he said.
Barbs were traded over behavior in the debate over the library’s budget and operations. Audience member Bernie Grauer claimed Liebmann, the vice president of the library board, was showing disrespect for critics. Liebmann countered the library board has been unfairly criticized because it won’t adopt all requests by critics.
“This board won’t be intimidated or bullied,” Liebmann said.
Others on both sides of the issue scrambled to diffuse the acrimony with limited success.
Liebmann proposed one of the more controversial moves of the night. He proposed a budget amendment to reduce the amount spent on new materials for the circulation inventory from $100,000 to $89,000. Even with the reduction, the Basalt library will be spending more on circulation materials per capita than the vast majority of other libraries, he said.
Liebmann said the reduction in spending was necessary to be financially responsible. Critics of the library have contended the board does too little to expand circulation.
Liebmann’s motion was approved 5-2 by the board. Another Liebmann motion to freeze hours at current levels and not add four hours per week – as the board previously decided – failed. Freezing the hours rather than adding four hours per week would have saved approximately $28,000 for the year.
The final budget project was approved with a $49,953 deficit. The library district has about $645,000 in reserves that will be tapped to make up the difference.
In another board action, Becker was offered a contract for 2012 that retains her $105,000 salary and reduces her housing allowance by $10,000 and her benefits package by $8,000. Becker didn’t disclose at the meeting if those terms were acceptable. She has until the end of the year to accept or decline the contract.