MOUNT VERNON — Gov. Ted Strickland’s proposed state budget includes funding cuts for public libraries of almost 32 percent compared with the current budget. This is in addition to cuts of about 22 percent earlier in the year.
For the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, this means making cuts in all areas. Cuts in the number of employees and the hours worked account for the largest savings.
“We had 57 people on staff as of the first of the year,” said John Chidester, director of the library system. “Eight of those have been laid off. That is to say, I choose to say their hours have been reduced to zero and we will take them back as soon as we can. Another 23 people had their hours reduced anywhere from eight-fortieths to 50 percent. Some people had their hours cut in half.
“In terms of hours, before we made any cuts at all, the total number of hours worked per week by all library staff systemwide 1,706 hours. After all of the cuts were made, we have about 1,264.5 hours being worked per week.”
That works out to be a cut of about 25.8 percent of all hours worked per week, he said.
As far as savings in benefits paid because of reduced hours and layoffs, the library is somewhat bound by law as to what it pays.
“By law we pay 13.5 percent to [Public Employees Retirement System],” Chidester explained. “And we pay 0.45 percent to Medicare. We also pay into unemployment compensation insurance. I don’t have the exact percentages or numbers of those. But roughly, in the neighborhood of 15 percent of the total dollar savings is in those things.”
Chidester said the library has very few options in the area of benefits.
These areas account for the bulk of the savings put in place by the library to this point. There are other areas identified by Chidester where additional savings can be had.
“We have cut our hours of operation,” he said. “If the governor’s budget cuts go through, we will be cutting our hours even more. How much more, we haven’t figured out yet. But I presume we will and will do so in the next couple of weeks or so.”
Chidester has previously stated he does not anticipate closing any branches. But that possibility is not off the table.
Other areas such as maintenance and air conditioning offer some minor savings potential.
“Let me address air conditioning first,” Chidester said. “Out of a budget of $1.8 million, which is down from $2.3 million seven years ago, out of that budget, utilities for the main library — that’s gas, electricity and water — is $48,000 a year. Air conditioning is a fraction of that. If we turn the air conditioning off the computers in this building would crash within minutes. On top of that, we have library materials that when you store them in a building like this, heat and humidity will take a tremendous toll. Not to mention that anybody who walked through the door would be extremely uncomfortable. That’s why we have not elected to do that to save money. Right now we keep it at 72 degrees.”
Chidester said other areas for savings include budget items such as office supplies, a copier, cataloging and processing, and maintenance and cleaning supplies.
“All of those come to $41,000 a year,” he said. “We’ve cut back on those as much as we can. I can’t give you an exact figure because we have been making do with what we have and let things ride.”
Library material purchases have been on hold for the summer and will probably fall by the wayside for a longer period, Chidester said.
“Seven years ago my budget for library materials was roughly $400,000,” he said. “This year it is under $100,000 and we’re not even spending that. It has virtually dropped to zero. We have a little bit of endowment money and gift and memorial money that we get to put toward buying those materials, but it’s just a trickle compared to what it should be.”
Library materials means books, tapes, discs and periodicals.
One old icon of the library — the bookmobile — is a thing of the past. But the library does maintain two vans to shuttle library materials back and forth between the branches. According to Chidester, one is 16 years old, the other is eight or nine years old. The use of the vans will decrease with reduced hours at the branches.
“One other major area in the budget is what is referred to as contracts and open order services,” Chidester added. “That includes all of our utilities, phones, our automation services, things such as postage and freight, legal ads maintenance contracts, computer software maintenance and inspection fees. All of that comes to a little over $190,000 a year. It’s tough to cut out of that. We have cut some, but you can’t decide not to pay the electric bill, for instance.”
Another budget item is the director’s salary, which is $88,000 a year, rounded off.
“This is comparable to a slightly upper-level school administrator,” he said. “There are people at the career center making more money than I do. I am on a contract year by year.”
He said any changes to his salary would be up to the library board of trustees.
Chidester went before the board of trustees last week to get its approval to begin the process to put a library levy on the November ballot. The board approved the process for an additional levy of 1 mill.
“In 1986 the library began planning for its building project,” Chidester said in explaining the existing levy. “The project was completed in 1989. It doubled the floor space of the library. At that time the library passed a 0.3-mill operating levy to help with the operating expenses for the enlarged building. At the time I was nervous because I thought we needed a half-mill levy, but that didn’t pass. We settled for the three-tenth mill levy because the library board at that time thought that was all we could get passed.
“During the ’90s, everybody was fairly prosperous. That was before any of the library fund [from the state] was frozen and state revenues rose and funding for libraries rose along with it. So that three-tenths mill was not insufficient during that period.”
Originally a five-year levy, it was renewed in 1991. In 1996 it was renewed for a continuing period, which means it did not have to be put back on the ballot again. This is the only library levy in existence at this time. According to Chidester, the levy brings in roughly $162,000 a year.
“Out of a budget of what used to be $2.3 million, that’s not a huge amount,” he said “This year it amounts to about 10 percent of our operating revenue.”