|Himmell and Wilson Report Response|
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Recommendation # 8Retain the three factors – population, square miles, and local expenditures – as the basis for calculating State Aid.
The three factors applied in determining State Aid reflect conditions that have an impact on quality library service. Population reflects the fact that serving more people takes additional resources. Square miles reflects the reality that effectively serving a large geographic area often entails branch locations, bookmobiles, and other outreach efforts that have costs associated with them. The local expenditure factor recognizes the partnership that exists between the State and local units of government in providing library services. Local governments that are willing to support services should be encouraged to do so through financial incentives.
Recommendation # 9Remove the population cap that is applicable under the current formula.
While the population cap currently penalizes only one jurisdiction, the day may come when it affects others as well. As stated above, the population factor is in place to reflect the fact that larger populations require money to serve adequately. Areas that experience rapid population growth typically also face substantial infrastructure costs that have an impact on other funding priorities. Removing the caps ensures that jurisdictions faced with this situation will receive an increase in State Aid that will help them maintain quality services. Furthermore, removal of the cap at this time has a relatively small financial impact. Waiting until Fairfax County grows even larger and until multiple jurisdictions fall under the cap will place the legislature in a situation similar to what they are facing with the revenue cap. The cost of removing the cap will eventually become prohibitive.
However, the removal of the population cap, and even more importantly, any adjustment of the expenditure cap, must be done in a manner that holds other jurisdictions harmless. Growing areas should not be compensated at the expense of other areas, many of which lack adequate capacity to support library services at a high level. Even if a hold harmless provision is built into the formula at the "full funding" level, the impact of the removal of the population and expenditure caps must be considered under partial funding scenarios to prevent a shifting of funds away from the struggling areas of the state and toward growth areas.
Recommendation # 10Adjust, and then index the revenue cap and revisit the cap every five years for possible readjustment.
The revenue cap is the source of a considerable degree of unfairness in the State Aid formula. Over one third of the libraries in the State are now affected by the cap which serves to negate one of the purposes of the original State Aid formula – encouraging local expenditure for libraries. The problem that exists is that the revenue cap has not been adjusted for fifteen years. During that time, local funding for many libraries has soared and an increasing number of libraries have been affected by the cap.
Almost everyone, including the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, agrees that the expenditure cap is problematic. An ever increasing number of localities are not being recognized for their contribution to library services. However, nearly everyone is afraid to tinker with the cap for one or more of several reasons. A complete removal of the cap would either be very expensive (JLARC estimated that a tripling of State Aid would be necessary to hold harmless the two thirds of the libraries not under the cap) or would severely penalize two thirds of the libraries in the State including most of those that are in economically distressed areas.
Because this situation will only grow worse over time, the consultants believe that a three step process should be followed. A one time adjustment larger than the 3% per year adjustment suggested by JLARC should be made. The adjustment should be accompanied by the amount of money necessary to hold harmless all libraries not affected by the cap. This adjustment is likely to cost the State nearly $ 8 million. The new cap should then be adjusted annually as suggested by JLARC using the Consumer Price Index as a guide. JLARC further recommended revisiting the expenditure cap every ten years. The consultants believe that it should be readjusted at five year intervals to prevent the current dire situation from reoccurring at regular intervals.
In short, to achieve a fair application of the State Aid formula, the expenditure cap should be removed; however, providing enough additional funding to protect two thirds of the libraries is unlikely. The consultants therefore recommend a significant adjustment that falls between JLARC’s recommendation and a complete lifting of the cap.
Recommendation # 11Seek restoration of funding for the Infopowering the Commonwealth program including Find It Virginia as well as grants for computers and network equipment.
Virginia’s libraries must be technologically advanced if they are going to continue to be relevant to the people of the Commonwealth. Although the consultants believe that books will continue to dominate library collections for many years to come, nevertheless, computers and computer based devices will continue to expand their domination in reference and information services.
We have already discussed the merits of Find It Virginia and have stressed the importance of that resource as a tool that extends equitable access to quality information resources to all Virginians. We have also alluded to the benefits associated with moving the Find It Virginia licenses to State funding. However, the consultants believe that the Infopowering program must also include funding for computers and network devices as well.
In order to remain current, libraries must develop rolling replacement schedules that allow for a complete turnover of equipment every four to five years. For most libraries, this kind of replacement schedule is just a dream. Gates computers are nearing the end of their useful lives. Every day, thousands of Virginias turn to public libraries as their primary source of computers. They depend on the equipment for communication, for education, and for consumer and health information. Classes held in computer labs in libraries help residents of the Commonwealth develop marketable job skills and help students hone their information literacy skills. A robust Infopowering program is an excellent investment.
Recommendation # 12Seek a separate construction bonding program to promote new public library building and expansion of current facilities.
We have already seen the importance of public library buildings in the lives of their communities. They are more than just brick and mortar. They are, in many cases, the heart and soul of their communities. The JLARC study of five years ago recognized the need for a source of capital funding to renovate and expand existing buildings and to construct new facilities.
A funding program for construction such as the one envisioned by the legislature in the year 2000 makes sense on several fronts. If nothing else, such a program could help to address significant handicapped accessibility problems that exist across the State. Inaccessible restrooms, non-compliant or non-existent ramps, shelving spacing that fails to meet the ADA Guidelines and the lack of handicapped parking abound. Addressing these issues should be a high priority.
Secondly, new and expanded facilities can have a significant impact on a local economy. As the most significant public building in the community, a library can be used as a catalyst to encourage private investment in aging city centers. It can be used as a mechanism to encourage higher density development and to fight urban sprawl in the "New Urbanism" mode.
Many other states, including Delaware, Massachusetts and California, have well developed programs that provide a significant percentage of the cost of new library construction. For example, the Delaware program provides 50% of construction costs. The consultants believe that this kind of program is merited and that it would have a significant positive impact both on library services and on the communities in which new or expanded facilities are built. However, it should also be recognized that the administration of such a program would require additional staff within the Library Development and Networking Division. At least one professional with significant library facilities experience and full-time clerical support would be required to implement this type of program.
Recommendation # 13A significant portion of Federal LSTA funds liberated through a shifting of the Find It Virginia program should be used to support pilot projects and innovative approaches to offering service.
At the present time, Virginia’s public libraries lack a source of funding for innovation. Libraries find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being a highly technical knowledge industry with little ability to carry out any research and development activities. If the Virginia Library community is successful in getting State support for Find It Virginia, LSTA could be used for a variety of important purposes including fostering innovation.
For example, LSTA could provide the initial funding for a 24X7 virtual reference network that would enable all Virginians to get real-time answers to reference queries anytime day or night via telephone or through the Internet. LSTA funds could also be used to encourage the development of shared automation consortia serving multiple library jurisdictions.
Several states (Indiana is one example) have used or are using LSTA funds to begin the development of statewide virtual libraries patterned after the Library of Congress’ American Memory project.
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