By Kari Ashworth, Lauryn Jodush, Socrates Maura and Maricruz Reyes
The Seymour Public Library is facing a budget crisis. Funding rules created in the 1990s have not kept up with the library’s expenses but that may soon change.
The library is currently finalizing an updated funding agreement with the three municipalities who own the building and grounds, after an independent firm conducted a multi-year study to help clarify and categorize the library’s current financial needs.
The Town of Sweden, Town of Clarkson, and the Village of Brockport, which share the library, are set to review the final draft of a joint agreement that outlines funding responsibilities for each municipality. The library has been operating under a deficit over the last few years, resorting to grants, donations and other sources of income to handle costs that went beyond operational expenses.
“The building that the library is in is still owned by the three municipalities; we built it, we borrowed the money, and we built this thing,” Sweden Town Supervisor Kevin Johnson said. “And what became very clear as we began going through their budgets and expenditures over the last number of years is that the library was covering all of the physical costs for maintaining the physical structure of the library.”
While some of the library’s costs are solely the responsibility of the library, the majority of the budget is the responsibility of the municipalities. It is not split evenly among the three; it is decided by population size.
“[The three municipalities] give us an appropriation, and it’s based on the tri-municipal agreement that goes back many years,” Director Mike Boedicker said. “It’s been updated a few times, but the original one is from the ’90s when this building was built. And the funding is not equal; it’s actually based on their populations. So it’s approximately 40% for Brockport, 30% for Clarkson and 30% for Sweden, and so they fund this accordingly. And that 100% doesn’t equal the entire library budget, but it’s about 90% of our budget.”
Financial consulting firm Bonadio Group was hired in 2017 to conduct an audit of the library’s finances and expenses. Their report outlines key issues facing the library and, more importantly, what category they fall under. Categories and their metrics were key to officials in helping determine what expenses fall on the library’s own finances and what expenses must be covered by the municipalities.
“So moving forward, the library has said, ‘here are the operational things we’re going to change;’ the municipalities have said, ‘here’s what we can do to alleviate this pressure in your budget. We’re going to take care of the building we own,’” Johnson said. “Seems like it should be common sense, unfortunately it’s just not the way it was working. So if we’re able to take tens of thousands of dollars of cost out of their budget each year by handling these things – and not necessarily every single year, some years you might have nothing. The next year, you might have that $80,000 roof. But the point is if we can relieve that pressure in the budget, over time, I think things will stabilize.”
That budget has already been reduced by the municipalities working with the library, dropping almost $16,000.
“When I presented the budget [for this year], there was a $48,000 budget,” Seymour Library Treasurer Margaret Zimmer said. “It has since dwindled, so now we’re at $32,000 and change. So, and that’s through a variety of savings that we’ve had since that happened. We’re saving some money off our electric bill by joining the Green Spark initiative, where we’re getting solar power in conjunction with the village. That’s going to save us about $1,300. And there is a tri-municipality agreement that we’re working on where they will pick up some of our capital costs and that’s a savings as well.”
So far, the library staff has worked around their budget with care. The library currently employs 17 people, out of which three are full-time. The rest are a combination of part-time, paraprofessional staff and eight substitute reference librarians that help fill any gaps.
Zimmer said that the rest of their attention is focused on obtaining grants, tapping into reserve funds and cutting costs by enrolling in programs like the Green Spark Initiative. Despite this, Boedicker said the staff delivers a high level of service and is eager to go beyond, particularly for those who cannot afford certain services.
“I’d like to see the library get used as a tech hub, a place where you can get a reliable fast wireless connection, where you can print documents,” Boedicker said. “We’re getting a new copier from grant money to replace our 12 year old copier, which will allow you to create almost any kind of document.”
Boedicker said that area residents get a variety of services in the library that go beyond books and that most do not have computers at home.
“Their phone is their computer basically,” Boedicker said, “and yet they had to get onto a computer because they had to do something like apply for a job.”
Measuring the effectiveness of the library is one key focus for municipalities like Sweden. For town officials, moving past yesterday’s troubles and onto tomorrow’s challenges will help measure the effectiveness of the library, making sure taxpayer money is well spent.
“The process that we’ve undertaken was really an effort to more or less reset the relationship between the three municipalities and the library, to ensure that everything is sort of back on course,” said Johnson. “The point is from here forward what can how can we make a difference.”
The final draft of the proposal to fix the budget is in circulation, and the three municipalities as well as the library board are hopeful it will be resolved soon.