The Woodstock Library’s Interim Director Jessica Kerr has reworked the numbers to allow for staff raises and an additional part-timer in the Library’s proposed 2015-2016 budget while keeping taxes in check, she reported at a special meeting of the board of directors July 2.
And in a related development, Library Board president Stuart Auchincloss announced that he’ll not be seeking another term in the September election.
Trustees were largely receptive to Kerr’s spending plan that calls for taxes to increase by $10,772 or 2 percent, over the current levy of $538,415. The budget calls for spending $627,869, an increase of $43,272, or 6.89 percent over the current year’s figure.
Even with an additional part-time page to lessen the workload of the other staff members, Kerr said her budget is enough to keep going for another year, but does not include any additional services for patrons. “What I worked on was savings in other places so that I could leave in the 3 percent raise,” said Kerr, who feels it is well-deserved, especially since workload has increased with the departure of two employees.
Overall, the average pay at the Library is $18 per hour. Those without a Master’s in Library Science average $14 per hour.
The library increased its hours from 41 to 43 per week in 2010 but did not increase full-time staff. Also since 2010, the staffing has remained constant while library usage has increased significantly, Kerr said in justification of pay increases. In fact, the Mid-Hudson Library System is working on ways to stimulate traffic overall, while circulation in Woodstock continues to increase, Kerr said.
Additionally, the Consumer Price Index has increased nearly 9 percent from 2010 to 2015 while the staff pay has increased 3.5 percent, Kerr noted. The CPI is frequently used as an indicator when setting wages. Kerr said the new $12-per-hour page position “only maintains library service as it is” and does not expand services. If the budget is approved, staff with a year or more of service would receive the raise. The total cost for pay increases is $2,590.
By removing subscriptions for new electronic publications, projecting a fuel savings from new heat pumps to be installed and cutting publicity and printing costs, Kerr was able to find some savings. Further savings came from Former Director Amy Raff’s negotiation of lower insurance for the former laundromat property. Kerr believes the new Outreach Committee can help with publicity at no additional cost.
Perhaps the biggest savings came from funding the expected $35,000 cost of the master plan update through unspent money from previous years. Without moving that money from the fund balance, Kerr’s budget proposal in June came with an 11 percent tax increase.
Trustee Doris Goldberg said she sat down with budget for two hours and tried finding places to cut. She didn’t make as much progress as Kerr. “I have a new respect for Jessica,” she said, applauding her ability to make the cuts “relatively painless.”
Part of the operating budget includes projects such as digitizing Woodstock Times, the collection of which is gradually being scanned to a keyword searchable database through all pages from 1972-1978. The archive is available through the library website at woodstock.org. Instead of using microfilm, articles are at one’s computer fingertips.
In order to offset the cost of this and other projects, the Outreach Committee is working on “strategic alliances,” said chair and trustee Dorothea Marcus. She thinks maybe volunteers could perform some of the manual labor such as scanning the newspapers.
“Is there a way we could establish a separate fund for that?” said newly appointed trustee Jill Fisher, suggesting the library reach out to the community and not have such projects buried in the budget.
As a way to help maintain adequate staffing, the library has an established policy of allowing employees to accrue up to 90 days of vacation time and 90 days of sick time. As a result, those leaving or retiring can be entitled to large payouts. The library recently paid out a combined $50,000 including payroll taxes when director Amy Raff and technician Thomas Whigham left.
Councilman Ken Panza, who has been keeping a watchful eye on library finances, suggested trustees re-examine their personnel policy to avoid large accumulated absences, something the board has agreed to investigate.
Adding to the payouts is a $12,000 expense to deal with mold in the library basement and $18,000 for new heat pumps. The library will likely realize energy savings to offset the heat pump cost, but as Auchincloss points out, these personnel and equipment expenses take $80,000 out of the library’s various available reserves.
Sound fiscal practice would include keeping three months’ operating expenses on hand for emergencies. Also, some reserves are typically used to offset the next year’s taxes, but those options are reduced because of the expenses.
Taxes in perspective
Based on information from town Tax Assessor Marc Plate, the average Woodstock property assessment is $282,000. With the current library tax rate at 40.2563 cents per $1000 assessed value, the average property owner now pays $113.52 in library taxes. A 2 percent increase would raise the library tax for the average property by $2.27. Put in perspective, a newly released hardcover can cost around $27. A new-release movie can cost $1 to $5 to rent on disc or electronically or $20 or more to buy. For the cost of a handful of books and some movie rentals, one can have a year’s worth of library services including countless programs and forums.
Someone else’s turn
Auchincloss announced in an email to trustees that he will not seek another term on the board, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. “I have put in a lot of time on the Library in the last three years and as you have heard me say, ‘Family comes first,’” Auchincloss said. He’s not quitting though. He’ll serve out the rest of his term, seeing the budget through to voters and overseeing the hiring of a new director.
That opens the door for others wishing to serve. Soon after Auchincloss’ announcement, John Ludwig, outspoken critic of the library’s plan to build an annex on the former Library Laundromat property, said he intends to run, and was seen soliciting signatures. Ludwig was recently appointed to the Outreach Committee. Also running is George Finsrud, a new Outreach Committee member.
The board president is not specifically elected. A sitting trustee is appointed to that position by the rest of the board.
Petitions for the Library Board election are available from the library or on the website at woodstock.org. Candidates must acquire signatures of at least 25 qualified voters who live in the library district. The petitions are due by August 4. The election and budget vote is September 3. As of July 8, no petitions had been filed.
The board is expected to vote on the budget at its regular meeting July 16 at 7 p.m. in the library.