Library to council: No money for books

Library to council: No money for books

WOONSOCKET – New books might be a luxury item the Woonsocket Harris Public Library can no longer afford in the months ahead, according to members of the Library Board of Trustees.

For the past two years, the total amount of funds set aside for library books has been represented by a dash in the annual city budget. Instead, the library has relied on fees brought in by overdue library books and other sources to fund what it terms “collection expenditures,” including books and newspaper subscriptions.

In recent years, that revenue has increasingly gone to fund other pieces of the library budget, including the salary of a security guard at approximately $26,000 a year. At the same time, the amount leftover for books has gotten smaller as fee revenue declines, a change due in part to new policies for overdue library books that went into effect across the state this year. According to the board, the average monthly fee collections have declined from $3,273 in 2012 to $2,462 in 2019, and the library expects to collect about $10,000 less in fees this year.

“All those basic things have gone up. The money that we had for books we no longer have,” said Diane Lebrun, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees.

The budget problems were hashed out during a special meeting requested by the Library Board of Trustees with the City Council earlier this week. According to board members and library staff, rising costs and confusion over the budget process has led to an unexpected shortfall in the 2020 budget, with the effects expected to hit within the next six months. Library staff requested the council place an additional $22,000, at a minimum, in the library budget to resolve the issue.

“There’s very little funds because most of it is all fixed costs,” said Lebrun. “So what is leftover is not really enough to run a city library.”

In addition to a decline in fee revenue and rising salaries, board members blamed confusion over the budget process for the sudden shortfall just after the City Council passed a budget in June. At the time, budget documents showed a 2018-2019 operating budget of $1,122,011, the same amount level-funded for this year. However, according to library staff, last year’s budget actually ended up being closer to $1,142,000 after adjustments, resulting in a cut to this year’s budget and potentially opening up the city to a cancellation of state library aid for failing to demonstrate maintenance of effort.

“Even now, when you’re looking at what we’re getting for 2020 compared with what we were getting in 2010, it’s less than what we were getting 10 years ago,” said Lebrun.

Materials submitted by the board to the council show Woonsocket spends far less than neighboring communities on books and other collections expenditures, averaging just over $35,000 a year, or 2.9 percent of the total budget. In comparison, Cumberland and North Providence spend 8.8 percent and 12.9 percent of their total budgets on collections expenditures, while the state average is just above 8 percent. Only Providence and Johnston, two other urban communities, spend a smaller portion of their total budget on collections materials when compared with Woonsocket.

Councilors were receptive to the board’s overall concerns but pointed out several departments had been forced to cut back in recent years amid budgetary struggles. Councilor James Cournoyer added that state policy regarding aid also factors in a department’s actual spending, which, in the case of the library, had not always kept pace with budget requests across all items.

“We’re tight everywhere. Everybody wants more. What we’re trying to do up here is balance demands across the board,” he said.

Councilors resolved to take another look at the library’s 2020 budget request to discover the source of the shortfall. In the meantime, warned board members, they may need to start cutting budget items to make up the difference, beginning with the library’s security guard.