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Wauwatosa Public Library gets infusion of $40,000

Emergencies, tattered book budget make the case

July 3, 2013

The Wauwatosa Public Library has received a stopgap $40,000 infusion from the city to purchase new materials and to cover unexpected expenses.

While the additional funding fulfills immediate needs, a long-term solution to library funding is still a challenge faced by the city.

"The fundamental question...is what kind of library you want to have in Wauwatosa," Library Director Mary Murphy wrote in a memo to the Budget & Finance Committee.

While required payments to the Milwaukee County Federated Library System have increased steadily, the Tosa library's materials budget has remained flat for five years and has actually decreased since 2009.

The current materials budget of $235,528 falls more than $16,000 short of the lowest level — the "basic" standard — of per capita spending as set by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The $235,528 materials budget for the Tosa library compares poorly to the same figures for some of its neighbors. In Brookfield, for example, the materials budget is $385,257, more than $10 per resident and far above the state's "excellent" standard. Wauwatosa spends half that — about $5 per resident, below the $5.40 per resident basic standard.

Financial pressures

"You might ask what we would do with $40,000," Murphy said in committee. "Forty thousand dollars takes us above the minimum as set by the state of Wisconsin and into a moderate level of funding for a library in a community of our population. It doesn't take us all the way up to a complete moderate, but it gets us in there.

"If we had the $40,000 that we've talked about at previous meetings...$15,000 of that is just backfilling monies that have been diverted from the book budget for catstrophes, if you will, that have come our way."

In April, a server for the library's security cameras crashed, and Murphy, calling the security cameras "crucial," took $7,500 from the materials budget to replace the system, a further erosion of the book-buying budget. Another $8,000 was charged to the library by the county system for ebook services, a cost that the county system, faced with pressures of its own, could no longer bear.

More and more over the years, costs for services provided by the county system have been pushed back onto member libraries, Murphy has said.

Another financial pressure the library faces is declining reimbursement rates for providing library services to members of the other municipalites. For Wauwatosa, a net lender to residents of other communities, this was an important source of revenue.

"Early indications are that the next Member Agreement (among MCFLS libraries) will include a further reduction in reimbursement for service to non-residents and another round of increased charges from the federated system," Murphy said in her memo.

A few years ago, the Tosa library, in a dispute with MCFLS, considered leaving the system, but Murphy defended membership in the system last week.

"We are much better off for being part of the federated system," she said. "We are a better library, our patrons, our citizens, are much better served."

Increasing funding

In an attempt to bring in more money, the library made modest increases in overdue fines beginning this year. But in the first quarter that amounted to just $2,000 more in fines than in the same period last year.

Wauwatosa's library is the highest-circulating library in Milwaukee County. More than 70 percent of residents have a library card, Murphy said. More than 400,000 visits were made to the library in 2012.

Alderman Peter Donegan, who pushed for additional library funding last fall when the 2013 budget was being considered — it was not added then — said the picture is worse than he thought. He noted "the disproportion of the way our citizens value the library, as evidenced by the use, and then the way we have funded it. That disproportion is remarkable to me. We really don't fund to our citizens' value of the library."

"I think we've all kind of failed here," he added, referring to the Common Council. "We have neglected this budget, but in a real benign way."

He praised Murphy as a team player in a time of austerity, but urged her to make a strong case at budget time for funding the library's needs.

The additional $40,000 will come from the city's contingency fund.

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