In the negative world of library budgets, cutting one’s losses can be counted as a win. This is what happened December 14 in St. Paul where the City Council passed an FY12 budget that will reduce the public library’s operating budget by only $600,042, instead of the $976,622 proposed in August.
“In Saint Paul, we were facing a proposed 7 percent staff reduction and ended up with a 3 percent reduction, resulting in no staff layoffs and restoring 12 open hours per week,” said Kit Hadley, the director of the Saint Paul Public Library. “The outcome is good because it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated and because there was consensus among council members that mitigating the proposed cuts to the library was one of the top priorities,” she said.
The final numbers look like this:
- Operations: $16,518.935 (down from $17,495,557);
- Staff cuts: 5.3 FTEs, instead of 12.1 (positions already vacant, thus no layoffs);
- Collections budget: Cut just over $400,000;
- Open hours: Reduced from 691 to 657 (instead of 645).
Downward though the figures may be, context matters. Since late 2008, the state has reduced local government aid (LGA) to St. Paul by $27.7 million. LGA accounts for about 30 percent of the city’s general fund revenues. This has created a volatile budget situation. Against this backdrop, convincing the council and Mayor Chris Coleman to mitigate cuts to the library budget was not a small feat, according to Peter Pearson, president of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, who help lead the advocacy efforts.
“Our elected officials have a difficult job balancing the needs of St. Paul’s residents with limited resources,” Pearson said. “When you look at the funding that the City Council reinstated, the library received a pretty big portion of that.,” he said. The council made an overall adjustment of $1.4 million to the budget, and it voted to raise its property tax levy by nearly 5 percent.
Even though city officials, in part as a result of strong advocacy, view the library “as somewhat of a sacred cow in the budgeting process,” the future remains very uncertain, Pearson said. He noted that the Republican-controlled state legislature wants to cut LGA funding even more, perhaps even zeroing it out. However, St. Paul has been fortunate that private donors have stepped in.
“A local foundation, the Otto Bremer Foundation, just informed us that they have approved a grant of $468,000 to The Friends of which $200,000 is earmarked for library materials in 2012,” Pearson said. “So this will go a long way to help address the cuts in materials funding,” he said.