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Budget crunch threatens library

May 17th, 2013 | Hannah Heimbuch Print this article   Email this article  

After a year of decreased revenue and funding losses, the Northwest Arctic Borough is faced with several difficult fiscal decisions this month - including whether or not to continue funding the Chukchi Consortium Library in Kotzebue.

A petition has been circulating Kotzebue in support of maintaining the library's funding, and Library Director Stacey Glaser estimates it will gather 1,000 signatures from the town of 3,300 by the time it's done.

The borough's contribution is essential to keeping the library open to the community, and not just to University students, Glaser said.

"The borough last fiscal year contributed $133,000 to the operation of the public portion of the library," she said.

This supports one full-time staff member and the vast majority of the public materials, she said, like magazines, movies and popular books.

It also funds the literacy, youth and teen programs offered every day after school.

Kotzebue doesn't have the typical youth hangouts of larger towns, Glaser said, like bowling alleys or malls.

"But we do have a library, and it's really well used," she said.

The library has 1,368 active patrons, and gets around 30,000 visits every year.

"I just can't even imagine what we'd all do without that space," Glaser said. "To be able to go, especially for kids, to be entertained and to be educated and enlightened, you know all those e-words that seem to come with libraries."

That includes e-mail - as the library provides free Internet access to the community.

There are a number of things stacking up to put the borough in the position of cutting programs they've consistently funded before, said Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule.

"In part this is because we have less revenue than the prior year," Joule said.

"We have an increased obligation to the school district of $397,000 - that wasn't there a year before. We have a loss in revenue based on revenue sharing in excess of $200,000. And we also will not be able to anticipate money coming from the state ARDOR program."

The Alaska Regional Development Organization was an economic stimulus program established by the state in 1988. In an 11th-hour decision by the Legislature this April, the bill reauthorizing ARDOR funding for five more years failed to pass, causing the program to sunset.

While support for ARDOR appeared strong, many opposed Sen. Donny Olson's decision to tag on unrelated legislation that put an extension on hair crab and scallop fisheries, and the bill did not pass.

When all is said and done, the borough is looking at $700,000 in cuts, Joule said.

"And that's why we're reviewing some of these things that we've been able to fund in the past," Joule said.

Programs under review include the library, the local arts center, Boys and Girls Clubs and cultural camps.

The borough assembly will make a final decision on the FY2014 budget during next week's May 20 and 21 meetings. As of press time Tuesday, the Audit and Finance Committee was scheduled to submit its recommendations to the assembly on Wednesday.

Joule said he can't determine at this time whether the library will face any cuts, and if it does what they will be.

"The bottom line is the administration and the assembly are working though this," Joule said. "These are not easy decisions to have to consider but we do at the end of the day have to come up with a budget."

Borough funding for the library began in 1991, the year Kotzebue closed the local bars. When the tax from liquor sales went away, so did the public library at the time.

"So then the Northwest Arctic Borough took that up," Glaser said. "To provide this most amazing little library in this town."

That funding is partnered with funds from the University of Alaska through the Chukchi Campus - where the library is located. Should borough funding go away, the library could only be available to University students, Glaser said.

The possibility of funding losses came as a big surprise, she said, especially after discussion of moving in the opposite direction.

"We're in desperate need of a bigger library," Glaser said. "So there has been some movement toward an expansion. The borough was amenable to it and we're interested in working together on that. And then this information came from the borough recently saying that we might be facing some budget cuts."

It's fairly clear from her conversations with borough representatives that no one wants to cut the library, Glaser said, but the reality of a fiscal deficit has put pressure on the borough to find a solution.

Glaser's hope is that the recent community support for the public library will convince the assembly to protect those funds.

"I'm hoping that this is enough to make it so they fully fund the library as they have for the past 20 years," Glaser said.


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