Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Age of Budget 'Scenarios'

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman got sneers and some derision last year when he rolled out, for the first time, different scenarios for the school budget. Anticipating state and local cuts of up to $70 million last year, he developed a list of potential cuts that would kick in based on how much money the schools eventually got from its different funding sources. The worst-case scenario, a $70 million cut, didn't materialize because of federal stimulus money. But the process did give the community a sense of what would have to go, and an opportunity to weigh in on what residents valued keeping.

CMS took the same approach this year, with a worst-case scenario of close to $80 million cut, and up to 1,000 employees laid off including nearly 600 teachers.

Now, the Public Library is taking the same tack. Today, Charles Brown, Director of Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries presented three budget scenarios to the Board of Trustees. The scenarios outlined three different ways the Library could deal with a possible $17 million budget reduction from Mecklenburg County. The Library receives approximately 93% of its sustainable funding from the County.

Scenario One allows for most libraries to remain open, but most locations would only be open one to three days per week and for limited hours, with some locations closed. This scenario leaves just 27 percent of the Library’s workforce intact (based on 614 positions in July 2008) and is not recommended because many citizens would not be able to use the library during the extremely limited hours, and because the employee to customer ratio at larger locations would be insufficient to ensure a safe environment for either employees or the public.

Scenario Two would close as many as 16 of the current 24 libraries based on both subjective and objective criteria, similar to what had been used in the scenario presented in March that recommended the closing of 12 branches. The criteria would include cost, usage, proximity and size in addition to community need. This scenario would result in large unserved areas and would leave a slightly larger percentage of the workforce intact, approximately 35 percent.

Scenario Three would involve keeping all of the regional libraries open, including ImaginOn and Main Library, but would close the community locations. This scenario also allows 35 percent of staff to remain and would provide minimal coverage for the largest segment of the community. Brown said keeping the regionals open allows the library system to offer full service (including more computers, books, meeting rooms and copiers), and to be able to accommodate more parking. In addition, this option provides a stronger starting place from which to rebuild the system should the economy recover. Brown also indicated that a reverse scenario was considered that closed the regional libraries and kept the community libraries open, but the “cons” around this model included fewer book and computer resources available to a potentially larger number of users as well as issues of more limited physical space and parking availability. Library officials will discuss the issues further at a meeting in May.

Officials said that no matter which scenario is selected, library customers will be negatively impacted because all of the scenarios include severe cuts to staff, library locations, service and materials. Information sessions to facilitate a dialogue between the community and Library staff will take place from Mid-April to May 4. Information shared at these sessions will help inform any future scenarios and will help the community to understand the library’s decision-making process. To view the presentation, click here.The Board of Trustees will vote on the Library’s final operating budget in June, following Mecklenburg County’s adoption of the FY11 budget.

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