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Library panel approves proposed budget increase for FY 2011

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The Austin Public Library system, which has taken the brunt of several rounds of city budget cuts over the past few years, could finally see that turn around in 2011. Financial manager Dana McBee told the Library Commission this week that despite a projected multimillion-dollar deficit, the city’s Budget Office is tentatively projecting a budget increase for the library system.  


However, members of the commission – noting that the library’s base funding level remains among the lowest in the country for similar-size cities – voted to term that fact “disgraceful” in a letter to city management and demand that the city increase the library’s per-capita spending rate. 


McBee reported that despite a projected budget shortfall for the city of between $11 and $28 million, the total forecast budget for the library for FY2011 was nearly $26 million, an increase of 6 percent from the FY2009-10 approved budget. “I’m very thrilled with what we have here,” McBee said. “Now, we may face cuts at some point, but I was surprised that they were willing to give us a six percent increase.”


The Library Commission held a special called meeting Monday to discuss the budget forecast for the coming year. The budget forecast was put together by staff and managers at the library and was presented to the commissioners by McBee. She said the Budget Office had approved every one of staff’s original requests. “Nothing was dropped from the original,” she said


Among those requests was $61,000 in funding for salary adjustments due to the reclassification of positions. According to the forecast report, between 2002 and 2010 the Austin Public Library lost, hired, rehired, and/or reassigned up to 100 employees to accommodate budget reductions and reductions or adjustments in operating hours. “The library has continually re-engineered and reorganized the way we do business in order to meet higher demand with inadequate staffing,” the report said. 


The consequence has been an increase in the number of employees whose job descriptions no longer match their responsibilities. The solution, says the report, is job reclassifications. The $61,000 would cover salary increases in 14 such cases.


Second, the report proposes $93,000 to pay for projected increases for information technology hardware and software needs. For the last three budget years, there has been no budget increase to correspond with the library’s rapidly increasing information technology needs. Though the library made a similar budget increase request for FY2010, it actually ended up having to offer reductions of these funds in response to a budget shortfall that was threatening to bring layoffs and library location closures.  


The city approved $30,000 for an increase in the electronic database budget. Between 2007 and 2010, the report states, the department had to discontinue 18 databases due to budget constraints, and “there is always the possibility that the elimination of the electronic resource may cause us to lose all access to the information and content if print versions are no longer available.”


The proposal also calls for an increase of $500,000 to the base library materials budget. Library materials include funding for library books, periodicals, and electronic databases. The current level of material funding is $2,200,061, which equates to a per capita expenditure of $2.83. According to a Public Library Data Service statistical report, that puts the Austin Public Library well below the lower quartile of $3.58 per capita as compared to the public libraries of other cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,999.


Which means the city has a lot of catching up to do, even to compete with an economically devastated city like Baltimore, Maryland. The extra $500,000 would bring FY2011’s materials expenditure per capita up 22 percent, to $3.45, but would still leave the city below the lowest quartile.


The commissioners, who otherwise seemed pleased with the results of the preliminary budget report, were clearly upset by Austin’s low rates of per capita materials spending. Commissioners had an extended discussion as to whether their letter to the city manager, in which they would voice their approval for the report, should include the word “disgraceful” when talking about the city’s current per capita expenditure rate. Director of Libraries Brenda Branch said she was worried that it “was an emotionally packed word.” The others, however, made the argument that packing things with emotion was the whole point, and in the end the word stayed in.


The commission then unanimously approved the budget forecast, as well as a draft a letter, communicating the commission’s approval of the preliminary budget forecast but dissatisfaction over current per capita material expenditures, along with a request that branch hours return to the levels they were in 2008.


McBee told In Fact Daily she will now use the approved forecast to prepare a proposed budget, which she will send to the Budget Office by June 7, the citywide proposed budget is due July 28.

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