Albemarle supervisors advised to change library cost agreement, stay regional

Last year, supervisors asked agencies to assess what impact a 5 percent to 10 percent cut would have on their operating budgets. For the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library (JMRL), cuts threatened to close two regional library branches: Scottsville and Crozet. The library system ultimately received level county funding.

According to a library study presented to county supervisors during a recent work session, Albemarle pays thousands of dollars for library patrons from outside the area. County staff recommended that supervisors amend a 1991 cost allocation agreement to reflect a more balanced circulation calculation method, among other steps.

Currently, the county provides 58.9 percent of the JMRL’s overall operating cost and spends $33.31 per capita—more than Roanoke, Chesterfield, Hanover, Spotsylvania and Fauquier, but considerably less than James County (64.4 percent) and Henrico County (52.73 percent). In addition, the county funds 60.7 percent of the Central Library costs, 55 percent of the Gordon Avenue Library cost, and 85.5 percent of the Northside Library cost.

In general terms, JMRL receives low rankings for staff per capita, operating budget, library programs and program attendance compared to those peer systems mentioned above. It also generates the lowest number of reference transactions per capita, but ranks close to the top in state aid when compared to peer library systems. 

"JMRL provides an efficient and effective library system overall compared to other localities despite having one of the lowest per capita funding levels and the lowest number of staff per capita," reads the report.

Costs for the JMRL system are divided according to a 1991 agreement considered problematic by some county staff. According to the agreement, cost allocation is based on circulation numbers for each of the libraries.

“However, in practice, the formula has been applied unequally, causing Albemarle to bear a larger share of circulation costs than other localities,” reads the report.   Out-of-area circulation has grown 84 percent since 2004 (from 4,878 to 8,976 users) and costs have been allocated, in its entirety, to the county. (Most out-of-area customers come from Fluvanna and use the Scottsville branch, according to the report.)

In 2009, the county’s actual circulation was 861,487, or 56.2 percent of total JMRL circulation. When out-of-area circulation is added, that number jumps to 942,770, or 58.14 percent. The out-of-area circulation carries an additional cost of roughly $30,000.

The city, according to the agreement, is responsible for all out-of-area college students, including those from UVA. However, UVA students are no longer counted as a separate category, which leaves Albemarle responsible for a greater share of the cost for the Central and Northside libraries. 

According to the study, a change to a county-only library system would not be financially sound. In fact, state support would be limited, since the state "favors" regional systems, say county officials. In addition, Albemarle County would have to front significant start-up costs, such as information technology and reference services, and find new and appropriate space.

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