Original Reports

Remembering the Library’s Promise of a “Slight” Increase

Tiverton residents should go back and read the headlines of some of the articles that the library put on its Web site supporting the bond to build a new library, such as: “Library Costs Will Increase Only Slightly” in the Sakonnet Times on October 17, 2011.

Based on historical data from the Rhode Island Office of Library & Information Services (OLIS), if the library gets the budget that it wants for next year, it will represent a 35% increase over the operating budget from that year.  Families that haven’t seen much of an income increase (if any) in the past six years may not see that as “slight.”

The library’s “frequently asked questions” section from back then is worth revisiting, as well:

9. Will a larger library require a much larger staff?

A: The New Library has been designed with sight lines and room usage that will allow it to be efficiently supervised by the same size staff as Essex. The one-floor design will increase staff efficiency, as will the much-improved organization of the Library resources. Moreover, the current staff will be able to provide enhanced programs and services in the New Library. Because 80% of the library operational budget is committed to personnel costs, keeping the staffing level unchanged will keep the increase in operating costs for the new library under 10%.

If the library’s requested budget is approved, it will represent a 42% increase in the cost of staff from its level when that paragraph was written — an average increase of 6% per year.  What happened to “efficiency” and “enhanced programs” at “slight” additional cost?  An annual staff increase of 2% over the same years would be saving the library just under $130,000 in the upcoming budget.

OLIS has data for all Rhode Island library systems through fiscal year 2016 — last year.  By population, Tiverton Library’s total operating expenditures were 17th highest out of 48, and local taxes made up the 12th highest percentage of that budget.  Our library was 6th highest in the state for the percentage of the budget that goes to employees.

tivlibrary-budgetrankings-fy16

For some perspective, if the local grant for the library were at the middle of the Rhode Island pack (per capita), it would have been about $92,000 lower last year, let alone the $90,000 requested increase for next year.

Tracking with the state median shouldn’t be an impossible task.  After all, Tiverton Library’s budget was 26th in the state, per capita, the year before the new library opened, but it jumped almost $60,000 in one year, almost all of it for staff.

Residents can believe it’s wonderful that the new library is getting so much use and still feel like something is very wrong, here.  With our combination of high taxes and tight budgets, we should insist that the library fix its problems and keep its promises until the rest of town government is back on track.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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