After several years of cutbacks in branch hours and capital expenditures, the Jeffco Public Library is hoping its 2014 budget will provide some relief.
The library's proposed $25.5 million spending plan for next year is slightly less than for 2013, but outlays will increase slightly from this year's $25.8 million budget. That's a result of the library paying off debt associated with construction of the Belmar branch in Lakewood, which will decrease debt payments by about $715,000.
The money freed up is going right back into library operations, library spokeswoman Rebecca Winning said, adding that the extra funds will be used to help restore the budget for computer replacement and for staff training and professional development.
The library also has included a 3 percent merit pay increase for employees to match the county-wide effort to raise pay for Jeffco workers in 2014.
No reserve funds would be used for operational expenses in 2014, but $922,404 would be spent from reserves for capital projects. For this year, the library used $600,781 from reserves to cover operational costs; it used about $1 million in reserves for capital projects.
Previous to the economic downturn, Winning said, the library had been on a two- to three-year replacement cycle for computers used by patrons. But when revenues began to shrink, computers were replaced only as they failed.
For patrons using the computers, having up-to-date technology is just as important as having books, said Donna Walker, the library’s director of public services.
“I think it’s critical. We still have many, many people who don’t have access elsewhere to computers. This is their place for their computer use,” Walker said. “If it has to go out of order before we replace it, that’s just not good customer service.”
Walker said the computer needs for each library branch would be assessed. For more affluent areas where computer access isn’t as critical, such as at the Columbine branch, Walker said funds might be spent to let patrons use their own computers and tablets through docking stations and wireless access.
“The main message for us is, we’re maintaining service hours and we're investing more in technology for patrons,” Winning said. “We do have some long-term hope for the library as well.”
Winning said one of the main goals would be to eventually reinstate service hours for branches across the county. In 2012, the library’s total weekly hours were cut from 63 to 51.
“At some point when the economy starts to turn around and we have the resources, we’d like to get back to better service hours,” Winning said.
Once the library is able to restore pre-recession service levels, Winning said, several other issues will be addressed, including expanding services to areas currently underserved, including South Jeffco.
Winning said that since construction of the Columbine Library — the southernmost branch — the population in the area has doubled.
The Jefferson County Public Library, which is funded through a designated county property tax of 3.425 mills, has 10 branches throughout the county. It has the equivalent of 186.5 full-time employees.
The county commissioners are set to vote on the final county budget during their Nov. 26 meeting.
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.