Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ottawa Library braces for spike in health costs

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 7/19/2013

The rising cost of health care benefits was one of the driving factors behind the Ottawa Library’s proposed 2-percent budget increase for 2014, Terry Chartier, library director, said.

“We were successful in having our health insurance premium increase reevaluated in 2013, but we expect a substantial increase for 2014,” Chartier said.

The rising cost of health care benefits was one of the driving factors behind the Ottawa Library’s proposed 2-percent budget increase for 2014, Terry Chartier, library director, said.

“We were successful in having our health insurance premium increase reevaluated in 2013, but we expect a substantial increase for 2014,” Chartier said.

Ottawa city commissioners reviewed the library’s budget at their study session Monday.

The library, which had held employee raises at 1 percent for three years, is planning a 2 percent increase in 2014, Chartier said.

“The balance of the budget remains essentially the same [as the 2013 budget],” Chartier said.

If approved, the library’s budget would account for 8.868 mills of the city’s proposed 47.510 mill levy for 2014.

The library is just one portion of the city’s overall budget. The city commission has scheduled a public budget hearing 7 p.m. Aug. 7 at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa, to give residents a chance to offer comments or concerns about the city’s proposed 2014 budget.

The library’s proposed budget authority for expenditures would be $789,573 for 2014, up about $25,000 from 2013’s estimated expenditures of $764,410.

The proposed budget is fairly flat, with a modest increase projected for rising health costs and a slight pay raise for employees, library representatives said. The library employs 27 people, Chartier said.

City commissioners asked library representatives about elevating the staff’s pay from a 1-percent raise to a 2-percent increase this year.

“We decided to do a little more for our employees because we’ve held employee raises at 1 percent for the past three years,” Chartier said.

The bump in pay is in line with the library’s strategic plan, Chartier said.

When fines, grants and other funds are factored in with the property taxes generated through the mill levy, the library is anticipating revenues of $874,594 in 2014, against total estimated expenditures of $853,594 — leaving contingency reserves of $21,000, which would be similar to the past two years, according to library budget numbers.

The library has a taxing authority of up to 10 mills, which was established in 1996 by a new charter ordinance when the library moved into the City Hall building, according to city officials. Scott Bird, the city’s finance director, told city commissioners the library has never exceeded its 10-mill limit. The library’s highest mill levy was 9.7 mills in 2002, according to Herald archives.

State statutes require that municipalities fund public libraries, as long as libraries stay within their taxing authority — in this case 10 mills.

Commissioners also asked about the possibility of expanding hours. Chartier said in a follow-up interview the library is not looking to expand its hours at present, but she didn’t rule out the possibility in the future if economic conditions improve.

About 80 percent of the people who use the library live in Ottawa, with about 14 percent of its patrons residing elsewhere in Franklin County and 6 percent outside the county, library officials reported in 2012.

The library saves Ottawa residents thousands of dollars each year, Chartier said, which she said many residents might not think about until they analyze the numbers.

For example, Chartier said, the library put on 567 free programs in 2012 that resulted in 12,326 attendees — saving the community $245,520.

“The cost of those programs, if people would have had to pay for them, would have averaged about $20 per person, so that’s where the savings comes in,” Chartier said.

Similarly, the library’s public computers were used 17,250 times in 2012, saving the community $776,200, Chartier estimated, based on computer costs and the monthly fees people pay for Internet service.

“We had 122,197 items circulated [in 2012], saving the community $3,665,910,” Chartier said.

Those items could range from books to DVDs to books on CD and others, Chartier said, all of which can be checked out for free at the library.

“Books on CD can run from $50 to $130, so you can see it could get expensive if a person was paying for those books, rather than checking them out at the library,” she said. “These are only a few benefits Ottawa Library offers to the Ottawa community.”

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