Official says it costs more to provide joint library services than separate

Jan. 14—JAMESTOWN — It is cheaper for the city of Jamestown and Stutsman County to operate separate libraries versus the two entities providing joint library services, according to Stutsman County Commissioner Joan Morris, an appointed member of the James River Valley Library System Board of Directors.

"I as a county commissioner really want to be a part of the consolidated group, but I'm facing a lot of questions as far as what are our expenses if we are a standalone (entity)," she said. "That would be reverting back to where we were before."

Morris and Joe Rector, James River Valley Library System director, presented information on the costs of operating the Stutsman County Library as a separate entity to the library board at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 11. Morris said Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, asked her to distribute information about the costs to operate the county library.

Morris said she came up with an estimated budget of about $167,000 to operate the Stutsman County Library. She said Stutsman County is giving the library system about $172,000 for 2023.

Rector's estimate to operate Stutsman County Library is about $203,000.

"That is what I think it will cost at a minimum for minimal service if the county is running a standalone," he said. "That doesn't mean it is a level of service that I recommend. In my opinion, it is a minimal service, and it is my opinion as a librarian. I'm not an accountant. It is not any kind of official statement."

Rector said it costs a little more to operate the library system as a joint entity because it needs to "benefit the group." He said the library system shouldn't just provide minimal service to rural residents in Stutsman County since Jamestown residents go to the county library but a majority of rural residents go to Alfred Dickey Public Library.

"You have to help put money toward the future development," he said. "You got to put money toward things that are going to be benefitting the whole."

The James River Valley Library System Board of Directors received a letter in December that was signed by Mayor Dwaine Heinrich and Mark Klose, chair of the Stutsman County Commission, that says, "The language of the memorandum of agreement is clear, unless and until a plan for transition is developed and approved both buildings will continue to operate."

The Jamestown City Council and Stutsman County Commission each approved a one-year extension of the memorandum of agreement between Stutsman County and the city of Jamestown earlier this year, extending by one year the date each entity may provide a notice of intent to withdraw. The agreement extends five years from the effective date, which is in March 2023, and is self-renewing for successive five-year terms.

Morris said she created a preliminary budget to operate the county library on its own with bookmobile services and reduced hours. In the budget provided by Morris, the county library would be open 32 hours per week versus 40 hours per week.

Morris said she used all of Rector's numbers for expenses except for employees. She said Rector's expenses include three full-time employees, including a librarian with benefits at $70,000 per year and two bookmobile drivers with benefits at a combined salary of $70,000. For staff utilization, Morris' budget uses two employees on average who are present for every hour the county library is open versus 2.4 employees.

She said the Stutsman County Library has about 2.4 employees for every hour that it is open to the public.

"That's taking out when they are doing bookmobile runs," she said. "If you consider there is probably an average of three people in the library, so it's basically almost three people to wait on every person that comes into the library."

Morris' budget includes using two full-time employees who each get paid $20 per hour versus having three full-time employees, including a library director at $27 per hour and two bookmobile employees at $14 per hour. Her budget says it could be adjusted for finding a part-time bookmobile employee to help during days of the bookmobile routes and to cover an employee's vacation or sick leave. Her budget also says the county library could contract with the University of Jamestown's library services for technical assistance on an as-needed basis.

In Morris' budget, it shows four bookmobile routes per month using 32 hours versus six routes using 45 hours. She also proposes having four bookmobile routes year-round versus having six routes during the school year and three rural routes during the summer months.

Morris said she used the statewide average of $30 per person to calculate library funding.

Morris also provided numbers for funding the library system using a state average of $30 per person. If the funding is at about $782,400 from the city and about $172,300 from the county, the library system would receive about $307,000 over the state average per capita from the city and $400 below the state average per capita from the county, according to Morris' research. With those funding levels from the city and county mill levies, the cost per person is $49.37 for each Jamestown resident and $29.93 for each county resident.

She said if the county provided 4 mills for funding, the library system would receive $163,100 over the state average from the county and receive $470,000 above the state average per capita.

The city of Jamestown provides 15 mills to the library system while Stutsman County provides 2.05 mills. Stutsman County provided 4 mills when the library system started providing joint library services, although the actual dollar amount never declined prior to the county's budget cut in 2021.

Rector also showed the funding per capita for the James River Valley Library System. In 2021, the library system ranked fifth in the state in per capita local revenue or local revenue per person at $43.74. McLean-Mercer Regional, Tioga Community, Enderlin Municipal and the Divide County Public libraries are the top four in the state in per capita local revenue, respectively.

He said many smaller libraries were in the top 20 in the cost per person. Fifteen of the top 20 in the cost per person were libraries that served a population of about 8,000 or lower.

"When you have a small population and you are spreading good service around, the price per capita goes up," he said.

He said the libraries that serve a larger population have a lower cost per person, but they are spreading their cost for the service over more people.

Using numbers from 2021, Rector also showed a comparison of full-time employees between libraries that have at least four full-time workers which include Fargo Public, Bismarck Veterans Memorial, Grand Forks Public, West Fargo Public, Dickinson Area Public, Williston Community, Morton Mandan Public, Valley City Barnes County Public, Ward County Public, Carnegie Regional and McKenzie County Public libraries.

Comparing operating revenue and salary wages, the library system was seventh in the state. Comparing wages divided by full-time employees, the library system is 11th. The library system was 12th in the percent of revenue spent on wages at 42%.