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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Planning for budget cuts

Since our failed election, since our projected drop in revenue next year, I've been engaged in discussions with board and staff about how best to respond. We've put together a framework for dealing with the times, and I'm proud of it.

First point: the library is in better shape than many. No debt. Money in the bank -- the "rainy day fund" everybody talks about but few set aside. A balanced budget. A history of planning ahead -- as evidenced by our RFID/self-check/automated materials handling. No greedy, short-sighted and foolish investments that gambled away our future.

Second point: an eye to the realities of public finance. When people vote against sufficient funding for a certain level of service, then you can't provide those services. You must, instead, restructure your operations to make them sustainable and logical within existing resources.

Third point: rather than come back year after year with different strategies for cost-containment, I'm urging the adoption of a sequence of steps. If things get worse, we, and the public, will know what it means.

Those steps are as follows (all subject to change as revenue projections are updated, of course):

* 2009 -- freeze hiring, restructure around attrition. Close satellite libraries not in population centers where there is shopping. That leaves us with our regional libraries. Lots of smaller cuts and deferred projects. No more Shakespeare festival, no more Page to Stage programming outreach to schools. Slight reduction in purchasing of new materials. Get one or two more years out of public computers, and replace older technology on a schedule.

* 2009-2010 -- in August (when we find out what our 2010 revenues will be, and assuming continuing decline), reduce library evening hours by 8 hours a week, probably Wednesday and Thursday nights (our slowest).

* 2010-2011 -- again based on financial projections, close all evenings, going to 6 eight-hour days, probably from 10-6 each day.

* 2011-on. Start closing whole days of the week, saving weekends for last. At this point, we're dismantling the whole system, taking it back to its status of 20 years ago, when Douglas County had less than a fourth of its current population.

The strategy is based on what we know of library use, and our statistics tell us a lot. It is a thoughtful reduction of service based on a reduction in the main thing we spend money on -- our staff. But this kind of advance notice means that we can look after that asset as long as possible. It is my profound hope that we can reduce staffing to match our hours through attrition; layoffs should be the last step to balance our budget. But as we've learned everywhere else in the economy, sometimes, last steps are necessary.

Along the way, we'll also be looking at gearing up our Foundation and volunteer efforts. But if the whole economy is failing, fundraising is not likely to be sufficient to prevent decline. And volunteers, while extraordinarily valuable, are not a long term replacement for professional services in any field.

As I said after our November 2008 defeat, "we will suffer with our community." But now that we have a strategy for dealing with suffering, it's important to start planning for success. More about that in other postings.


Mrs. Hill said...

"2011-on. Start closing whole days of the week, saving weekends for last. At this point, we're dismantling the whole system." Geez, this is scary. I hope either (a)you're being sarcastic OR (b)the local economy turns around & we don't have to resort to this bare bones schedule...

Jamie said...

No ma'am, I'm not being sarcastic. This kind of scenario (sudden closings, hour reductions and layoffs) is being played out in a shocking number of libraries across America today -- at the same time we're seeing a rash of articles (Wall Street, USA Today) about how people are turning to libraries more than ever to help them respond to economic crisis. What's different about my approach? Advance notice.

ddodd said...

Great timing--I'm just about to go into a budget meeting with my city manager. Helpful ideas in your post! Many thanks, as always, for your clear thinking and insight.

Claudia said...

Clearly you and staff have thought long and hard. Thanks for sharing. Hope it doesn't come to this.