JEFFCO (CO) LIB BOARD BEING SET UP FOR A FALL
It’s been an incredibly busy time for the Jefferson County (CO) Public Library Board of Trustees and Library staff.
- The Board is trying to find a new Executive Director for the Library while the Library operates under Interim Director Pam Nissler.
- The Board is short-handed after the newest member, Catherine Hildreth, resigned. The Commissioners had failed to advise her adequately of the level of commitment required for the position.
- JCPL has had to prepare a “Zero-Based Budget (ZBB) in addition to their regular budget
The funding and budgeting situation is precarious. At the Library’s current mill levy, 3.225 mills, JCPL will experience a drop in funding of about $1 million a year because of declining property assessed values. Please understand that this drop will be experienced by the whole County and the Library is more than willing to bear its fair share of this burden.
The problem is that on top of this reduction, the Library is suffering a loss of almost another $2 million because the Commissioners are already “shifting” its tax money into other departments. In other words, the burden is NOT being shared. The Library is being asked to shoulder more of the burden to balance the County’s budget.
Now that the ZBB process is under way, the Commissioners have begun to reveal their true purpose in this exercise: to set the Library Board up for a repeat of last year’s fiasco and source of the Commissioners’ ire.
You may remember that last year the Commissioners decided to continue “shifting” almost $2 million from the Library’s tax levy and instructed the Board to spend down its Reserve Fund rather than cut services. The Board decided that spending its reserves was not sustainable and to continue running as close as possible to a balanced budget. After painful analysis, the Library determined the best cost-cutting option was to close libraries on Mondays. The Commissioners were irate. Their attitude has been “we told you how to do it in your budget by spending your reserves but you wouldn’t listen.”
The Zero-Based Budget involves breaking the Library into 38 “business units” and preparing a cost justification from scratch for each unit. At their first ZBB meeting with the County on July 25, staff presented the outline of a detailed budget based on their current level of operating expenses. The Commissioners told the Library that it should not base its budget on any specific level of funding. Acting Director Pam Nissler replied that the Library’s standards are based on JCPL’s Long Range Fiscal Plan as well as the Colorado Public Library standards of service and that the current budget permits a level of service at about the 50th percentile. “Oh No”, said County Administrator Ralph Schell. “You can’t use library standards – if you do, you’ll be asking for too much money!”
The Commissioners intend to examine each line-item of the Library’s 38 “business units” not just for justification and possible cuts, but to look for “overlapping services”, where the County thinks it is already providing similar services. Commissioner Rosier has specifically cited I.T. as an example. Once again, the County has no statutory authority for doing this.
So here’s the setup: The Commissioners will target line-by-line cuts in JCPL’s budget and reduce the Library’s funding (mill levy) accordingly. Then they’ll tell the Library Board exactly how to spend that money to achieve the Commissioners’ level of cuts. If the Library Board asserts its statutory spending authority and insists on a balanced budget requiring service cuts rather than depleting its resources, the Commissioners will be even more irate than they were last year. It’s a no-win situation for the Library. I predict the BCC will even charge the Trustees with fiscal mismanagement for ignoring their “suggestions” for how to spend the Library’s money.
This situation has some very important ramifications:
- JCPL’s funding will be slashed yet again to supplement Social Services and other County functions.
- Further cuts in services will be necessary to avoid depleting the Library’s reserve fund.
- The Commissioners effectively take over the Library Board’s statutory authority and responsibility to determine how the Library’s money is spent.
The Library Law states plainly [C.R.S. 24-90-109(e)(I)] that the Library Board of Trustees has “exclusive control and spending authority over the disbursement of the library funds as appropriated by its legislative body, including all assets of the public library fund, as set forth in section 24-90-112 (2) (a)”
This is nothing short of an attack on the Library and the Board of Trustees. The Commissioners goal is pretty clear – to use the Library’s property tax levy as a fungible source of revenue for the County and to continue to tap it to balance their own budget. Not only is this damaging to the Library, it is an insult to the taxpayers who voted to fund JCPL twenty five years ago.
Remember, folks: If we’re going to protect the Library from this blatant political meddling and protect our tax money from the sticky fingers of the County Commissioners, IT’S UP TO US
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