Monday, July 12, 2010

Another example of City-County Cooperation: Library costs

During the discussions about City/County collaboration and cooperation, some questions have been raised about the Regional Library System and whether the Funding Formula should be changed. As background, it is my understanding that Regional Library System, which includes Albemarle, Charlottesville, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson, receives funding from different sources and for different purposes. These include the following:

1. Federal monies, which are used primarily for telecommunications and internet services;

2. Fines and fees, which are designated for the purchase of equipment such as computers;

3. Monies received from the Friends of the Library Book Sale, which is housed primarily at the Gordon Avenue branch, and which generates monies designated for special programs;

4. State aid, which is designated for books and materials which would be purchased by the library; and

5. Funding from each individual jurisdiction through the Funding Formula.

Two areas are of special interest. First, the State funding. This is significant because the State provides additional money to regional systems over and above what individual jurisdictions would otherwise get. This is one tangible way that the State rewards “regional cooperation”. Consequently, if any individual jurisdiction decided to pull out of the Regional Library System, its individual allocation from the State would be less per capita than it effectively receives today. Here is one clear indication where cooperation gives us more bang for the buck. The other area of particular interest is the Funding Formula for the jurisdictions. The formula, which has been in place since 1991, asks each jurisdiction to contribute based on usage. Consequently, if an Albemarle resident uses the Downtown library, that use is factored into the formula. The same would be true if a Charlottesville resident uses the Northside library. Consequently, when you hear someone say that Albemarle is paying a certain percentage of costs for the Downtown Charlottesville library, that statistic is generated by the usage of the library by Albemarle residents. Beyond that, another important point to remember is that the Downtown Library building is owned jointly by the City and County.

It is interesting to compare the expenditures per capita of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System to other places around the Commonwealth. The average cost for 91 public libraries in 2008 was $35.23 per capita. Our library is spending $31.10 per capita, which is less than independent libraries such as Orange, Waynesboro, and Staunton, and ranks near the bottom of the 24 libraries that were analyzed by the Library of Virginia. Only Madison, Amherst, Chesterfield and Fluvanna spent less per capita. Our staffing ratios are smaller than most other libraries in the state as well. In a 2007 study of similar sized libraries, none had lower staffing levels than ours.