R.H. Stafford Library could see hours reboundAfter a year of bad news, Washington County has proposed what is likely a welcome plot twist for area library users.
By: Jon Avise, Woodbury Bulletin
After a year of bad news, Washington County has proposed what is likely a welcome plot twist for area library users.
Deep cuts this year to the county’s library budget forced officials to close two small branches and slash hours at the handful that remained. But now, top library and county administration officials have proposed to restore some hours at the system’s five largest libraries in 2013.
Under the proposal, which officials say will be part of Washington County’s proposed 2013 budget, the county would expand service at Woodbury’s R.H. Stafford, Forest Lake’s Hardwood Creek and Cottage Grove’s Park Grove branch libraries, currently open Tuesday through Saturday, to 57 hours per week. That would include added hours on Monday, from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday traditionally is one of the busiest days of the week, said Patricia Conley, the county’s library director.
Conley told County Board members last week she has heard “fairly constant requests” for expanded library hours, and frequent “disappointment expressed” because of the cuts. Traffic at the county’s libraries in 2012 is up roughly 20 percent over last year, officials said.
Last year’s nearly $500,000 budget reduction also closed branch libraries in Newport and Marine on St. Croix; the county installed lockers for book pick-up and drop-off in both cities, as well as Hugo.
The proposal for 2013 would bring service levels closer to those seen in 2011, when the Stafford and Hardwood Creek branches were open 61 hours; and Park Grove – which now serves all of south Washington County following the Newport library’s closure last year – was open 49 hours per week.
It would also restore Monday hours at libraries in Oakdale and Mahtomedi that would be open 45 hours per week. Washington County’s smallest branch library, the Valley Branch in Lakeland, would remain closed on Mondays.
The proposed budget shifts $260,000 back into the library system budget next year to cover the added hours. County Administrator Molly O’Rourke said the funds would come from unexpected Property Records and Taxpayer Services Department revenue in addition to savings that could be generated by delaying a computer system upgrade.
Those funds represent a one-time boost however, O’Rourke warned. Officials would need to find a similar level of funding – either through increased revenue or a shift of funds - in 2014 to continue at the same level of library service, she said.
“There are a lot of other proposals that did not get funded,” O’Rourke told commissioners. “But, the direction I heard was, ‘Try to increase library hours as much as possible without increasing the levy.’”
The County Board will begin detailed departmental budget discussions later this month.
“I do like this. I’m excited we would be able to open on Mondays,” Commissioner Lisa Weik, of Woodbury, said of the proposal. But, Weik – who has been a vocal supporter of restoring library hours, primarily on the weekend at the county’s largest libraries – says it isn’t enough.
“I still want to push to have Sunday hours,” she said.
Conley said that would be difficult at current staffing levels. Washington County has roughly 11 fewer full-time equivalent library employees in 2012 than it did in 2007.
The County Board will vote on a preliminary budget this fall.