As local library branches see an increase in usage, the Barry-Lawrence Library District is preparing for a major cut in funding next year. Several portions of the district's 2009-10 fiscal year budget have been slashed to help local libraries weather the economic storm.
"We want to keep the doors open," said Jean Berg, Barry-Lawrence Library District director. "We don't know what will happen. The bulk of our support comes from tax dollars in Barry and Lawrence counties. That money is used to maintain 10 branches. We will just do the best we can and hope for the best in the future."
The district's 2010 funding cuts are directly related to a state tax law that states that any political subdivision established prior to 1984 can use its maximum tax levy to set its current tax rate.
"The library district was voted on in 1969 when the local branches were consolidated into one district," said Berg.
The district was established with a 20-cent tax levy maximum. Around 20 years after initial voter approval, the Hancock Amendment was passed and local tax assessments dropped considerably, which decreased the district's levy to 11 cents.
"The district went to the voters for a four-cent increase, which brought us up to 15 cents," said Berg. "That was the last voter-approved levy."
Due to the fact that the district was established with a 20-cent maximum levy in place the Missouri State Auditor's Office authorized the district to increase the levy with local tax assessments. As growth continued in Barry and Lawrence counties, the levy was increased to 17 cents.
"Last year, legislation was passed that took out the 1984 reference point," said Berg. "We fought to get a legislator to sponsor a new bill and toward the end of the past legislative session a House bill was introduced to include the 1984 reference point again.
"Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill," said Berg. "He said that no political subdivision should be authorized to have a levy that is greater than the last voter-approved levy. This immediately put us back to 15 cents."
As Berg developed the district's budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, she included several funding cuts that will help sustain the district with lower revenue.
"All salaries have been frozen, and we are not going to be hiring any new staff members," said Berg. "Fortunately, we have not had to lay anyone off though."
The district's book budget has been decreased from $155,000 to $120,000 next year for the 10 library branches, and the periodical budget was decreased from $13,800 to $10,000. Local libraries will also receive fewer new DVDs, videos and CDs. That budget was decreased from $17,000 to $10,000 for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
"We have a genealogy data base, which costs $2,575 each year," said Berg. "That will be eliminated as of Oct. 1. We will also decrease our capital improvement budget by $1,500.
"Capital improvements include general equipment, furnishings and building maintenance," said Berg. "We own eight of our branch buildings, so we have to keep enough capital improvement funding to maintain those facilities."
In the past, the library district has used equalization funds and other state aid to supplement its tax revenues. Currently, the amount of available state aid is unknown.
"Last year, we received $36,466 in equalization funds from Missouri, but we never know if we will get that money or not," said Berg. "We also received $38,068 in state aid, which is also unknown, and $15,000 from the Athletes and Entertainers Tax.
"That is around $90,000 that comes from the state that is an unknown factor," said Berg.
As the library district makes major budget cuts, it must consider the increase in usage that has been recorded at all 10 of its branches over the last year.
"Usage has skyrocketed," said Berg. "We have a lot of demand for our computers and Internet access at all of our large branches. People are using the computers to apply on-line for jobs or create resumes.
"Our biggest demand right now is access for job searching," said Berg. "The computers are used constantly. If we had triple the number of computers we have, they would still all be full. We have had several people tell us that they are coming to the library, because they cancelled their Internet service at home to cut costs."
Circulation has also increased at all of the library branches. In 2008-09, library patrons borrowed 468,772 items from the district. This year, 496,930 items were checked out at local libraries.
"That is an increase of more than 2,000 items," said Berg. "We saw a huge jump everywhere. Circulation at the Monett and Mt. Vernon libraries increased nearly 10,000. People are relying on the library a great deal more."
The library district also saw a large increase in the number of students and families participating in its 2009 summer reading programs.
"Program attendance increased dramatically," said Berg. "I think families were not vacationing and leaving home as much because of the economy. We saw a large increase in our summer reading club and programs, which are all offered for free."
Those free programs and other new library services, such as the Early Literacy Station that will be added at the Cassville Branch this year, are heavily dependent on local support and the Friends of the Library.
"The Cassville Library is very fortunate," said Berg. "Super 8 Motel subscribes to 10 or 12 magazines for the library. They also receive support from Walmart. Their most recent grant will be used to purchase a computer with educational software for kindergarten through fourth grade students.
"All of the branches collect contributions for their summer reading clubs," said Berg. "I commend our staff members for getting such terrific support for that program."
In order to restore the library district's 17-cent tax levy, the issue would need to be approved by local voters. The Barry-Lawrence Regional Library Board of Trustees has not discussed the option of placing the issue on an upcoming ballot.