LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - As the city looks ahead to its 2015 budget, it's also taking a look at at the future of La Crosse's struggling library system.
If no changes were made to staffing or service and if the city allocates the same amount of money to the library again this year, the Library Board is still looking at a deficit of about $250,000, according to director Kelly Krieg-Sigman. One of the biggest concerns is whether all three branches will be able to remain open in the coming years.
"Having the challenges we do with the resources and the services that folks expect, it is a challenge and it is a concern," says Mayor Tim Kabat.
How did it get to this point, and how does our library stack up against similar city libraries?
News 8 compared 2013 spending at three similarly-sized libraries in Wisconsin: La Crosse (population: 51,600), Wauwatosa (population: 46,705) and Janesville (population: 63,600), according to the Department of Public Instruction.
2013 City Funding
La Crosse Public Library: $4.45 million
Per capita: $86.33/person
Wauwatosa Public Library: $2.35 million
Per capita: $50.33/person
Hedberg Public Library (Janesville): $3.2 million
Per capita: $50.34/person
At $86.33 a person, the La Crosse Public Library is the most expensive per capita library among all comparably-sized cities, and quite possibly in the entire state.
La Crosse Library's city allocation made up about 3/4s of its $5.82 million total budget in 2013.
It's important to note here that all of Wisconsin's libraries have different funding methods - for example, La Crosse doesn't receive any county funding and historically never has, while nearly all other similarly-sized city libraries do.
2013 Employee Costs
La Crosse Public Library: $3.88 million
63.15 total staff
Wauwatosa Public Library: $1.7 million
26.5 total staff
Hedberg Public Library (Janesville): $2.52 million
47.84 total staff
These numbers include both wages/salary and employee benefits. While La Crosse is significantly higher than other comparable libraries, it is also the only library of its size with more than one branch. Krieg-Sigman said La Crosse's employee benefits are significantly higher than other libraries because of health care.
According to Krieg-Sigman, those higher costs translate into better services in La Crosse.
"We have one of the highest circulations in the state, we have one of the highest levels of new acquisitions in the state, and we have one of the highest levels of programming attendance in the state," she says.
Krieg-Sigman also noted La Crosse has more librarians with masters degrees than several peer libraries. According to the DPI, 29 percent of La Crosse's total staff comprises librarians with masters degrees; that compares to 23 percent at Janesville and 42 percent at Wauwatosa. The average of nine similarly-sized libraries is 24 percent.
Fixing the Problem
Krieg-Sigman says she has visited peer libraries across the state to get a feel for how they manage their spending; next week, she plans to visit libraries in Milwaukee. She also added the Library Board has consistently making spending cuts since 2010.
The city's Library Task Force is looking at ways to get spending under control, with a meeting scheduled Tuesday night to give the Library Board some recommendations. Kabat says the system's high spending is a question that needs to be answered.
"It asks the question, 'Why? Why are we the most expensive system per capita?" he says.
Kabat and other board members say closing a branch location is not a solution anyone is comfortable with, but in the coming months, something has got to give.
"We are all obligated to find ways of saving money without compromising service beyond an acceptable level," Krieg-Sigman said.
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