The Pierce County Library System plans to cut spending on books, eBooks, movies and other materials next year by nearly one-quarter about $1 million to cope with a $3 million budget shortfall.
Money for materials for all groups of users adults, youths and children would be reduced. The library system last weekend also eliminated what remained of its bookmobile service and will reduce spending on building improvements.
The systems Board of Trustees held its first public hearing last week on the proposed budget. A second and final hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12, after which the trustees are expected to approve their spending plan.
The system operates 18 libraries and serves the majority of Pierce Countys readers and other library users in Pierce County.
The cuts are planned to cope with declining property tax revenue caused by falling property values. The library systems property tax revenue for 2013 is projected to fall by $2.4 million.
Property owners in the district pay 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the maximum library levy rate state law permits. Property tax provides 96 percent of the library systems revenue.
Another $600,000 in shortfall is due to increased operating costs, including electricity, building leases, insurance and step-level pay raises, said Mary Getchell, the systems marketing director.
The shortfall is the third in the last four years and the largest one to date. The library system had a budget gap of $1.5 million in 2010 and $1.9 million in 2012. There was no shortfall in 2011 due to $1 million in added revenue from Fife annexing into the library district.
With property values expected to continue to drop, library officials are projecting another $3 million shortfall for 2014.
The local library system is the fourth-largest in the state, serving a district of 555,000 people. It added its 18th location in Fife last year and relocated libraries for University Place and Milton-Edgewood. It serves the whole county except Tacoma, Puyallup and Roy, which have their own city libraries.
The systems operating budget dropped from $28.3 million in 2012 to $27.2 million this year. The projected operating budget for 2013 is $25.4 million.
The $3 million deficit would be offset in part by using $807,000 in reserves. The budget also projects transferring $309,000 less for building maintenance and repairs from the general fund to the capital fund.
Reduced costs for health care and retirement and salaries from unfilled positions would save $493,000, Getchell said.
The million-dollar cut in spending for purchasing books, movies, CDs, audio and eBooks, and magazines and newspapers is the biggest reduction for next year. That budget would drop from $4.3 million this year to $3.3 million in 2013.
Its the first major cut in spending on materials since voters reauthorized the library systems levy to collect more money in 2006. Adding materials and other improvements from that levy increase were planned to last through 2012, which has taken place, Getchell said.
The materials cut will result in the system further sharpening our buying decisions to offer books and materials that work even harder which means buying fewer items that people will check out more often, Getchell said.
The library buildings are not growing, and every time the library system purchases items, we take other items off of shelves to make room for the new items, she said. Books compete for space along with computers, chairs and other top priorities on the limited floor space in all of the libraries.
The library system faces unique cost challenges with eBooks, which Getchell called a library blockade imposed by major publishers.
Only two of six major publishers will sell eBooks to libraries, she said. And those two do so only at a cost of one to three times higher than the list price of books or with heavy restrictions, Getchell said.
Another cut comes from eliminating the last remaining locations for bookmobile service for a savings of $180,000. The final bookmobile run was Nov. 10. Service at 11 of 15 locations was eliminated last year.
Three bookmobile positions and an outreach managers job have been eliminated. The only layoff was a bookmobile driver.
In 2013, the total number of full-time equivalent positions is projected to drop by nine or 3 percent to 265.
Including part- and full-time workers, the library system now has 353 employees. Getchell said 316 of those are union members who received a 2.88 percent cost-of-living adjustment this year. Salary negotiations for a new three-year contract are under way.
The City of Tacoma has closed two library branches in the last few years. The Pierce County Library System Board did not contemplate any library closures in 2013 and doesnt expect to do so for 2014, said board chairwoman Linda Ishem.
Weve had this downward trajectory and losing revenues for a couple years now, so weve made some really wise decisions, Ishem said. Staff has been incredible in responding to and preparing for what we knew would be a long haul.