Thursday, April 29, 2010

Employee Compensation is Key to Responsible Budgeting, Library Style.

Between this article and all the time I have recently spent on the budget, I've been thinking about employee compensation. On the local level, the Library has struggled with equitable pay and keeping up with demand for services. With personnel as the largest expense for Library, and indeed for any service organization, it is critical to keep employment costs under control. Increasing demand for services makes that a difficult proposition.

While the Library's circulation has quadrupled in the last decade, the number of staff has doubled. Each employee is asked to do more every year. As we find innovative ways to use technology to help relieve workload, management and oversight of those technologies continues to add to employees' duties. Just as in the private sector, as companies downsize, maintaining employee productivity is not an option - productivity must increase to meet demand. Unfortunately for the Library, increased productivity does not mean increased revenue. Only voter support of a referendum can do that. Increased revenue from new homes and businesses coming onto the property tax rolls only works only during a boom economy. Eventually, as now, the boom ends, the revenue stream becomes flat while employer costs continue to rise. But for libraries, the boom in use begins when economic crisis hits.

A few years ago, the Library was hemorrhaging employees to the school district and private sector because base pay had not kept pace with the job market. When this was addressed by the Library's Board of Trustees, they examined both public and private sector jobs to help them determine an equitable base pay structure and benefits package for the Library. Creation of a compensation system that benchmarks base pay to a community standard and recognizes employee merit in alternating years, the Board of Trustees struck a balance in employee compensation that helps control cost while allowing the Library to attract and retain good employees.

While federal and state government operate with deficit spending, local governments like the Library do not. Today, the Library has no debt since the 1990 building bonds were paid off earlier this year. When building bonds are issued on the local level, voter-supported referenda ensure the revenue stream to fulfill those obligations. Pension obligations are met every year through a pension fund that operates responsibly. Your locally-elected Board of Trustees would not tolerate a deficit budget. The Library operates within its means, given to the Library by you, the taxpayer. For this Library, employee compensation that is fair to both the employee and the taxpayer is the basis of responsible budgeting, meeting today's demand for service without spending tomorrow's tax dollar.

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