Statement from The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees on the 2005 budget and Mobile Services
Below is a letter to the patrons from The Seattle Public Library board of trustees. See also:
We have received many comments about the Library's recently announced budget cuts and we wanted to describe to you the priorities and options that shaped our difficult choices. During the economic downturn of the last several years, the city's revenue has declined dramatically and this has had a significant impact on all city-funded agencies, including the Library's budget The Mayor and City Council understand the importance of libraries and have strived hard to support them, but the fiscal reality is stark.
The Library has absorbed more than $3.5 million in budget cuts since 2000. Operating hours have been reduced by 15 percent. The book budget has been cut by 28 percent; it is now only half that of similarly sized libraries in San Francisco, Boston or Denver. Numerous positions have been eliminated. In addition, every Seattle Public Library staff member has taken four weeks of furloughs over the last two years - during which they received no salary and accrued no benefits.
This year, the city has had to close a new $20 million budget gap. The Library, which receives its money from the city's general fund, was able to avoid new furloughs this year and the associated closures, but needed still to reduce costs by $2.1 million. As we considered the ways to meet this number, our first priority was to protect operating hours and the book budget. Open hours and books define the Library's purpose. They have also borne the brunt of recent cuts. We believe it is imperative to protect them from further reductions.
This left us with a set of limited options. For the Library to meet the required $2.1 million reduction for 2005, small miscellaneous cuts would not be enough. As a result, the Library Board decided to make three blocs of reductions: cutting management positions and administrative costs, cutting back the Government Documents program, and canceling the Mobile Services program.
These budget cuts are painful. Canceling Mobile Services, in particular, was one of the hardest decisions the Library has made. We know how important the Bookmobile and associated services are to so many patrons. But the cost of operating Mobile Services is approximately $800,000 a year. To achieve the same savings, the library would have to close every neighborhood branch in the city one full day a week. Given the necessity of protecting open hours and books from further cuts, this was a choice we needed to make.
We have instructed Library staff to provide service to the disabled and homebound through alternative means. The service will change, but we do not want to leave our most vulnerable patrons without library services. The Library has contacted the retirement homes, child care agencies and other institutions served by Mobile Services to discuss the changes in service and how the Library can work with them to get the resources they need - whether through the books-by-mail program, greater use of the Metro Access bus to bring patrons to our libraries, or outreach by new and expanded branch facilities.
Some have asked whether the funds being spent on new libraries could be used to forestall these cuts. They cannot. Our new and expanded facilities are being constructed through voter-approved capital bonds that by law can be used only for construction of library buildings. We cannot use capital bond money for library operations.
In tough economic times, demand for public libraries goes up, but available money goes down. This leaves no easy choices. We look forward to brighter economic times when we will be able to build on our services. In the meantime, we will work with Mayor Nickels and the City Council to ensure that the Seattle Public Library does the best job it can of serving the public.
Thank you again for your comments, your questions and your passion. We appreciate how much you value your public libraries, and we hope you will remain engaged as both patrons and advocates.
The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees
For more information contact:
Andra Addison, communications director
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