The library budgeting process

May 13, 2024 in

BY KATE LASKY
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GRANTS PASS DAILY COURIER | April 2024

It’s budget season!  That means the library is in the process of building next year’s budget. While you now might have an impulse to stop reading, stick with me — it’s the favorite part of my job.

Why? Because budgets are moral documents. You can see the values and ethics of an organization in how it allocates funding for people and mission. Our library budget demonstrates how the staff and board balance frugality and growth to determine a vision for the future.

Unfortunately, budgets can be tedious reading.

As the library director, I am the budget officer for Josephine Community Library District. Every year I walk the tightrope of building a new budget that fulfills the library’s strategic plan while adhering to financial constraints. The board sets the library strategic plan every three to five years, establishing the priorities and core values of day-to-day operations.

The library’s budget is relatively small compared to those of other governments, bringing in about $1.5 million in property taxes next year. Where cities and counties have multiple departments such as law enforcement, public works, fire and emergency management, the library has one department with dedicated funding. It makes my job a lot easier than a city manager’s or a commissioner’s job.

Oregon local budget law dictates the entire budgeting process, including how to form the budget committee, report for public record, account for contingency, and much more. The law also encourages and requires the local government to allow public participation during each major part of the budget process with both the budget committee and the district board budget hearing.

In early April, the library budget committee met and approved next year’s budget. Now, the community is invited to offer input at a public hearing, scheduled for May 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Grants Pass library branch. The official public hearing notice will be published in next week’s newspaper.

The budget committee is made up of five appointed citizens and the five-member board of directors Citizen members are appointed for four-year terms. For the library, positions open for recruitment in December of each year.

After the public hearing, the library board votes to adopt the final budget, which is then posted to the website. Budgets from previous years are also available on josepinelibrary.org.

The library district’s revenue increases about 2.8 percent every year. In the last three years, inflation has been outpacing revenue growth. If you project out a few years, higher inflation could lead to costs exceeding income — not just for the library, but for all our local governments. Because of this, the library is on a tight budget.

Thankfully, the library board had the foresight to set up a reserve fund and save for the future. To further offset our financial constraints, we seek grant funding to enhance library services beyond the basics and for things outside the scope of the budget, such as facilities and capital improvements partnering with the library foundation in fundraising.

The library spends about 60 percent of its operating budget on staffing and 40 percent on materials. Staffing includes wages, benefits, and payroll taxes. Materials include items for lending, programs, advertising, technology, facilities, equipment, utilities, and administration.

Josephine Community Library has a conservative budget, meaning we project lower revenue and higher expenses. Each year, we work to spend less than is budgeted, and we then put any surplus into savings. We now have about $900,000 in reserve savings.

To put that in perspective, operating the library costs about $120,000 a month. In today’s market, that $900,000 would get us through seven and a half months of operating. Not bad if the roof caves in or another pandemic hits.

Contributing to the strength of the library budget, the library also cultivates a healthy volunteer program boasting 30 percent higher volunteer hours than most libraries in Oregon, regardless of size and budget. With 15 full time equivalency (FTE) paid employees, the volunteers match the employees by about half, or 7.5 FTEs.

Government budgets are undeniably complex. To navigate budget season effectively, I have an exceptional team. Surrounding myself with capable individuals, seeking sound advice, and soliciting community input are essential components in crafting a healthy budget.

For our library, the core values — accountability, integrity, respect, equity, and freedom — are not just words but guiding principles embedded in every line of our budget. I invite you to attend our budget meetings and join us in serving our community with transparency and unwavering dedication.

 

Between the Pages is a monthly column written by Kate Lasky for the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Ms. Lasky has worked with Josephine Community Library since 2009. She holds a master’s in education and recently completed her master’s in library science. To send comments or questions, email klasky@josephinelibrary.org.