County’s shrinking budget continues to squeeze library system
By Trudy Balcom
RAWLINS — Like the taillights of a car on the interstate, Carbon County’s budget reduction goals have become a moving target — shrinking into the horizon of a fiscal future where there seems to be more questions than answers.
Chasing that target, department heads of county offices and public service agencies have had to revise budgets numerous times this spring, reducing their numbers in a downward spiral.
Nobody knows this better than Carbon County Library Director Bobbie Morgan.
Since early this year, the library has prepared 33 different budgets documents for fiscal year (FY) 2017 in an effort to create workable number for both the Carbon County Library Board and the Carbon County Commissioners.
Morgan successfully drafted a new budget with the county’s requested 30 percent reduction last month. That budget reduced hours at all locations, and cut about three staff positions, but all branch libraries remained open, as the Commissioners requested.
The Library Board also scheduled meetings in all of the branch library communities to discuss the changes the 30 percent budget cut would require.
Less than a month later, those plans are ancient history.
At a special meeting of the Library Board held Monday, board members discussed additional cuts the county is now seeking — totaling about 57 percent from the FY 2016 budget, Morgan said.
This fresh round of cuts, and the preparation of budget documents reflecting the new numbers were requested for a special county budget hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
Specifically, Morgan said that the county is asking the library board to prepare a budget at a county funding level of $225,000 for FY 2017, down almost 60 percent from $558,295 in FY 2016.
At a funding level of $225,000, the library board will be forced to close all of the branch libraries within less than 30 days, Morgan said.
Only the Library Board has the authority to close libraries according to state statute, but Library Board President Joann Whitson said that is what the board may be facing.
“The board appreciates the Commissioners for the support they have offered the library in the past, and assistance with the utilities. But at $225,000 there just isn’t a feasible way to keep all the libraries,” she said Wednesday.
Whitson said that the library board has not yet voted on any additional budget cuts.
More information needed
Morgan said she became concerned after hearing comments from some commissioners about staffing levels at the library. She felt that there was a lack of accurate information.
“What I’m trying to do is to educate everyone in Carbon County what libraries do and how they stand in relationship to other services,” she said Wednesday.
Morgan has been marshaling information in an effort to educate residents and the county commissioners about the library system’s needs relative to other county services, and posting it on the library website.
Libraries, she said, are not optional.
“What is accepted nationwide is that libraries are essential services, right up there with police and fire,” she said, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considers them an essential community service in a disaster setting.
Morgan said that there has been a lot of scrutiny of library staffing levels, but she’s not sure why.
When she was hired less than two months ago, Morgan said that there were seven full-time employees in the library system. With a $225,000 budget, full-time staffing for the library goes down to two full-time staff.
In the current FY 2016 budget, she noted that the county clerk’s office, with nine staff, has a total salary amount over $17,000 higher than the library with 13 staff.
“As the director of an independent agency, I want to know why everyone has the right to determine what our staffing needs are,” she said.
Carbon County Commissioner Lindy Glode is the liaison with the Library Board for the county commissioners. Glode is not happy with the thought of closing branch libraries.
“I am a library fan,” said Glode, who has served on the board of the Carbon County Library Foundation. “And I think rural libraries are even more important.”
Glode said that the commission has the unhappy task of figuring out how to reduce the county budget to reflect an estimated $244 million reduction in assessed valuation.
Glode contends that branch libraries could remain open at the $225,000 funding level, because the county owns the buildings and will pick up the utilities.
“I understand that’s a huge cut…it really is a dilemma,” Glode said.
Closure will cause loss of library collections
Whitson and Morgan said that if the branch libraries are closed, the library does not have the space to store all of the items now housed at the branches, nor the money to rent storage or to insure them.
Morgan said she has been in communication with the Wyoming State Library to find ways to donate or sell items from the collections of the branch libraries if they must close.
Whitson said that the Library Board wants to work with branch library communities to find ways to preserve some of the collections for a time in the future when branches could reopen.
“It depends on how we could partner with the communities to keep newer items in the collections, but nothing is set yet,” Whitson said.
Morgan said that no matter what happens with the budget, the Library Board intends to host meetings as planned in all of the branch library communities.
“We can’t go into a community in a month and tell them we’re closing their library without any notice,” she said.
IF YOU GO
Carbon County Library Board Meeting
Monday June 20, 4:30 p.m. Sinclair Branch Library – board will discuss county budget reduction requests
Monday June 20, 6:30 p.m. Library Town Hall Meeting
Carbon County Commissioners Budget Meeting
Tuesday, June 21, 9 a.m. Carbon County Courthouse