Since 1993, Aurora, CO, has had an unusual law: For every 1,000 residents the city must have two sworn, uniformed police officers.
At last count, the city’s population was approaching 325,000, which means this year the city will hire 13 more police officers, at a cost of $1.1 million, to ensure the police force meets the mandated staffing level. It translates to 658 FTEs. And this is uniformed officers, not dispatchers, not lab technicians or any other civilian staff.
Now, imagine the unimaginable: What if this law were applied to public libraries?
In Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, for example, which is cutting staff and hours deeply, there would be about 1600 FTEs (based on its legal service area) instead of 424. Or, Buffalo-Erie County, in equally dire straits, would have about 1,800 FTEs instead of 487. Denver Public, which has about 450 FTEs, would have nearly 1,200 instead.
And what if we only applied this law to fully uniformed, MLS-bearing librarians?
But that’s a fantasy. And in Aurora, the law has been a nightmare for the library system.
Last year (FY10), to help close the city’s deficit, the Aurora Public Library took the single biggest departmental cut: 46 percent, according to Jason Batchelor, the city’s budget director. Four branches closed and the staff was reduced.
A dwindling sales tax (that makes up 63 percent of the city’s revenue) and the anti-tax fervor in Colorado (which defeated a ballot measure in 2009 to help the library) make it impossible for the library to recoup.
The police, however, are sitting pretty. Does Aurora really need more police per person than, say, Colorado Springs? With its population of 414,658, that city will get by in 2011 with only 646 uniformed police officers.
The good news for the library is that in FY11 it will have an additional $200,000 to reopen one branch — but that’s only because a homeowners association threatened to sue.