Restored hours at Washington County libraries now in limboWashington County Board members threw a proposal to restore Monday hours at the county’s busiest libraries into doubt on Tuesday, with some commissioners saying they want to avoid increasing the library system’s budget next year.
By: Jon Avise, Woodbury Bulletin
Washington County Board members threw a proposal to restore Monday hours at the county’s busiest libraries into doubt on Tuesday, with some commissioners saying they want to avoid increasing the library system’s budget next year.
The proposed $6.4 million 2013 library budget shifts $260,000 in one-time funds from other areas of Washington County’s budget -- including higher-than-expected revenues from Property Records and Taxpayer Services and savings from delaying an internal technology upgrade – to cover 4.5 full-time equivalent staff positions and operating expenses of reinstating Monday hours at Woodbury’s RH Stafford, Forest Lake’s Hardwood Creek and Cottage Grove’s Park Grove branch libraries.
County administration will now bring forward alternative plans, however, after some commissioners, including Autumn Lehrke, who represents south Washington County, voiced unease with the proposed library budget.
Lehrke said she would prefer the county restore Monday hours while not increasing the overall budget by eliminating some hours from other days of the week and shifting them to Monday.
“What are we going to do next year?” Lehrke said, asking where the county would come up with the required funding to continue Monday hours and increased staffing levels in 2014. “This is a short-term fix. We need long-term fixes.”
Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek agreed with Lehrke, but County Administrator Molly O’Rourke told the board that Monday hours are unlikely with no increase in library spending.
“If you want to have Monday hours you will need an increase in staffing and likely additional expenditure,” O’Rourke said.
Monday hours were cut – and two smaller branches shuttered, including the Newport library – last year when Washington County cut the library budget by nearly $500,000. Despite the reduced hours of service, Library Director Pat Conley said use of Washington County libraries has increased over 2011.
Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he wanted the board to hear budget presentations from the remaining county departments before making a decision on whether to restore hours. He did, however, express some support for the plan.
“I’ve heard loud and clear that citizens want library services [on Monday],” Kriesel said. “And if we can do that without raising taxes, I think we’ve met our goal.”
Commissioners will set a preliminary tax levy next month and will vote on a final 2013 budget in December.