GRRL director explains cost of area libraries

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

 

At the request of the Morrison County Board, Great River Regional Library system director Kirsty Smith and the library’s finance manager, Linda Treb presented a report on the library’s budget at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Great River Regional Library system (GRRL) includes six counties: Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd and Wright. There are 15 members on the GRRL Board, appointed based on the population of each member county. Morrison County has one representative, Commissioner Kevin Maurer.

“We have an ‘equity of service’ philosophy,” Smith said. “Whether a person lives in a rural area or one of the larger cities, we want them to have equal access to materials.”

Smith acknowledged that “people have had heartburn with how the budget formulas work and why the money goes where it does.”

“We use a three-part formula based on population, the number of registered borrowers and the tax capacity,” said Treb. “Each county’s payment to GRRL depends on how each county changes in each category, and in relation to each other.”

For instance, although Morrison County’s population increased, the county’s share of GRRL’s total population decreased. While Morrison County’s number of registered borrowers has decreased, the county’s share of GRRL’s total borrowers has increased.

“The overall budget has been reduced by 7 percent since 2008,” said Smith. “Times are tough. We haven’t regained the 2008 level.”

Morrison County’s share of the GRRL budget is $445,848 in 2013. The proposed amount for 2014 is $459,843.

After mentioning that fine revenue is a contributor to the budget, Commissioner Jeff Jelinski questioned how significant a part of the total budget that could be.

“We collect more than half a million in fine revenue each year over the six counties,” Smith said.

Even that revenue is shrinking, as technology provides eBooks for readers.

“With the eBooks people check out there is not late charge; the book just expires,” Treb said.

The library system has been restructured to streamline operations and cut costs.

“We cut library aides, thinking that other positions could cover those tasks, but one solution caused another problem; branch managers were shelving books,” Treb said.

“We’ve since decreased from 12 head managers to six,” said Smith.

“We have more full-time equivalent hours at lower levels, but that has decreased at higher levels,” said Treb.

GRRL continues to receive funding from the state’s Legacy Fund. The Arts and Cultural Heritage portion of the Legacy Fund receives 19.75 percent of the sales tax revenue to support arts, arts education and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.

“Legacy money cannot be used for operational purposes — only for programming,” Treb explained. “It also cannot supplant expenditures which were being made at the time the amendment went into effect.”

Since GRRL was already offering children’s programs such as story hour at that time, the Legacy funds can not be used for that now.

“The Legacy amendment passed in good times, before the recession,” Treb said.

Jelinski asked whether the GRRL Board had ever talked about joining forces with school libraries.

“Most libraries in the state of Minnesota are not co-located (located near each other),” Smith said. “School libraries would have to be open to the public, and would have to be open beyond school hours. Minnesota statute outlines what it takes to be a public library.”

GRRL and other libraries are finding new ways to provide services for residents.

“We have restructured our reference department,” said Smith. “We are at the cusp of the ‘e’ processes and are changing to meet those needs.”

“As a proactive commissioner, I think it’s important that they come to us to explain why they need the money,” Maurer said. “As a board, we’re very concerned about increases. We’re looking at the budget now, and are looking at the money we spend on different things, trying not to raise taxes.”

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