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February 09, 2011

Supervisors seek changes to library agreement

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This was the first joint meeting of the Board of Supervisor and the JMRL Board of Trustees in 20 years, according to Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier

A review of Albemarle County’s participation in the Jefferson Madison Regional Library system has prompted staff to recommend continued participation in the multijurisdictional network.

“Based on statewide data and information, Albemarle is getting good value for the dollars that is investing in JMRL,” said Bryan Elliott, assistant county executive.

Elliott presented the review Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors. Last year, the JMRL board of trustees threatened to shut down either the Crozet or Scottsville library in response to a proposed 5% reduction in funds from Albemarle County.

In the end, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors agreed to level-fund JMRL at $3.17 million for FY2011, but also directed staff to explore whether it would be feasible for the county to leave the system and go independent.

Elliott’s review involved looking at counties similar to Albemarle to evaluate how much they were spending on libraries. For instance, James City County spends $64 per person for libraries each year, Henrico County spends $53 per capita, and Stafford County spends $36 per capita.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110209-BOS-Libraries

“Albemarle spends $33 per capita, which is ahead of Roanoke, Spotsylvania, Fauquier, Hanover and Chesterfield,” Elliott said. “[JMRL] delivers an efficient and effective library system compared to other localities.”

Under the current agreement that governs JMRL, Albemarle County’s financial contribution is broken down into three categories. First, the county contributes a portion of the system’s administration costs, including system-wide reference and information technology departments . Second, the county and city each pay a portion of the costs of operating the Gordon Avenue, Northside Library, and Central Library on Market Street. Finally, the county pays the full cost of operating the Crozet and Scottsville libraries.

Overall, Albemarle provides 58.9 percent of the total operating costs of JMRL.

One potential area for continued negotiations is the cost-allocation between the city and county for shared libraries. Currently Albemarle contributes 60.7% of the cost of the Central Library, 54.9% for Gordon Avenue and 85.5% of Northside Library.

“Over the course of our analysis, we did not discover anything in writing between the city and the county that set forth those responsibilities,” Elliott said.

Elliott said that state funding to libraries favors a regional system, but also acknowledged those funds were being cut back in response to state budget issues. Also, if the county went independent, it would have to provide its own reference department. A committee would have to divide up all of the assets.

“If the county withdrew, it would only be able to offer just over 21,000 square feet for a population of 90,000,” Elliott said.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Consider charging non-residents for services
  • Further evaluate funding formula for regional services
  • Evaluate the cost allocation formula city and county for administrative services and operation of bookmobile
  • Consider increasing Albemarle’s representation on JMRL board
  • Establish performance indicators to help Albemarle understand how its money is spent

Elliot’s recommendation to supervisors is to revisit the agreement with officials in other jurisdictions as the first step in making amendments.  Members of the JMRL Board agreed.

“We would welcome a formal process to haul the regional agreement out and form a commission… to sit down and go over it,” said Tony Townsend, who represents Albemarle on the JMRL board. “Let’s look at the points that are perhaps outdated… come up with a task list for that, and then draft what is essentially a new regional agreement, one that would be updated for the 2nd decade of the 21st century.”

“I think that’s a reasonable approach to it, but I just want to mention one thing,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd. “It’s not that we’re concerned about the need [for libraries]…  it all came down to how monies are spent…. Our county is very concerned that we are not in control of how $3 million of our county dollars are spent, and it was turned over to some other board to allocate.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker pointed out that the library board is a separate governmental body, and that the county has three representatives on it.

“We do not direct their line by line expenditures and never will under the current system,” Rooker said.

Supervisor Duane Snow said he understood that, but suggested the Board of Supervisors should be able to make suggestions as to how county money is used.

“Maybe altering hours… maybe during slow times we close on certain days, or half-day or in the evening,” Snow said. “At the end of the day, it’s still our money.”

JMRL Library Director John Halliday

Rooker said the county really needs to establish a better way of communicating with the JMRL Board to avoid a repeat of last year’s standoff over the closure of the library. He suggested periodic appearances by library director John Halliday to discuss budget concerns.

Elliott said he would begin developing an action plan to present to Halliday by the end of the month.


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