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Library budget reads like a book

Staffers continually look for ways to tighten the belt as revenues drop, expenses go up

November 03, 2010 - Fifty-two thousand dollars in library late fees?

It may sound like something from a nightmare for the typically tardy, but the Orion Township Library actually expects to collect about $52,000 in late fees this year.

But while the fees—comparable to other libraries—go right back into library coffers, those funds will hardly make a dent as staffers, board members and the library's "Friends" group look for creative ways to save money, raise money and generally stay afloat over the next several years.

The problem? Same as everywhere else: With taxable property values continuing to shrink, the library, like every other government entity, is taking a hit.

And since the biggest chunk of revenue comes from property taxes collected by Orion Township, it's a big hit.

In 2008, property tax collection revenues translated to $2,593,075 for the library -- but 2013, that number could drop to $1,665,350.

And it's not just property taxes.

Between 2009-2011, the library lost a combined 25 percent of its normal funding said Linda Sickles, library director. It gets worse.

"It's projected we will have lost between 40 and 50 percent of our normal revenue by 2013," said Sickles, who's marking her 30th anniversary as library director this week. "We can't operate with the full service people expect with half the money, and what suffers are the things people use most time and materials."

Other funding is disappearing via shrunken interest rates on investments and state aid that doesn't show.

By law, Sickles explained, state aid should yield $1 per capita, or $33,463, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

But since 2004, payments have steadily decreased: In 2009, the library received $21,021 in state aid, but saw funds sliced to $16,000 in 2010. The way things look, sending an even smaller check, about $12,000 per year, through 2013.

"At a time we're being relied on more heavily than ever, we're being forced to conserve our resources, and by 2013 have less to offer," said Sickles. "A lot of people come in to use computers and internet for job search or to file for unemployment benefits. They may have given up their internet service at home; ours is free of charge. You paid your entry fee to the library when you paid your taxes."

Many, she said, have also utilized the library's job networking group, while others, including cash-strapped families, rely on the library for entertainment, such as CDs, DVDs, or programs and tutoring for their children.

"It really does function as a go-to place for the community," Sickles said, noting the library currently keeps a staff of 24 full-time employees. "People can come in and use the resources without having to pay an additional fee."

Less money coming in, she noted, amounts to fewer copies of best-sellers, fewer movies and children's books. The list goes on.

Rather than asking patrons to accept a make-do-with-less philosophy, though, Sickles said the library will make a push for donations, fundraising activities and grant monies, as well as continuing to look into collaborations and partnerships with other government entities in hope of obtaining more bulk-rate bids for common goods and services.

And they'll rely even more heavily on the Friends of the Library group, Sickles added.

"They're working very hard," she said. "They need more members."

Friends President Pat Larivee was not immediately available for comment.

But Sickles said the library is also looking for direct donations. Those who make who make such contributions are eligible to deduct 50 percent of the total amount from money owed to Michigan on their tax returns, she said.

The library will also rely on its fund balance a rainy day fund expecting to dip $340,000 in 2011, another $250,000 in 2012 and $300,000 from the fund in 2013, just for genreal operating. But the library is also looking at a laundry list of upcoming expenses: Computer replacement, a new ILS system, a parking lot in need of resurfacing and an HVAC system already more than 20 years old, Sickles said.

The library's current budget proposal, which shows a projected 2010 fund balance of $3,107,113, projects a $2,217,113 fund balance for 2013.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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