Considerations and Guidance for Responding to Budget Cuts

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in uncertainty around library and municipal budgets. With the deferment of property tax payments, town revenue is diminished. In addition, many donors are diverting their giving to organizations responding to the most urgent community needs (e.g. food and housing stability), making fundraising even more challenging. Lastly, endowments have suffered during recent stock market losses.

This situation calls for a levelheaded assessment of your library’s financial situation and may require you, your Board and, where appropriate, your municipality to adjust your budget plans. VTLIB, in collaboration with our UVM extension partner Gary Deziel, present this list of considerations and guidance to help you respond to potential budget shortfalls. You’ll find additional resources on Gary’s Vermont Public Libraries Educational Program website. You may also contact him or VTLIB staff with questions.

At the time of this writing, we have not yet received information on the legal ramifications of towns reducing budgets that were passed by voters. We urge you to keep an open and active communication with your municipal leaders to meet these challenges collaboratively.

Budget (including endowments)

  • How will you adjust the budget to accommodate for reduced-level/level funding and for operational changes as a result of COVID-19? Do you need to adjust line items for books, furniture, supplies, technology acquisitions, subscriptions, or other areas?
    • Remember that—in the end—the bottom line is what’s most important (i.e. staying “in the black” at the end of your budget year). Keep coding your expenditures in the correct line item of your budget, realizing that you will need to underspend some line items if you have to overspend in other line items. (Example: You will likely need to spend more money in cleaning supplies and PPE – which means you may have to underspend in other areas to balance the budget.)
    • Also refer to VTLIB’s Reopening Information and Resources
  • If you are an incorporated library, is the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) the right choice for your library?
    • Please visit the State of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s website on PPP Loans for more information.
  • If you are a municipal library, is there municipal emergency funding or reserve funding for which your library would be eligible?
    • You may wish to talk with your town administrator or town clerk so that the library is not forgotten when the town determines how any emergency monies are spent.
    • Keep current on processing invoices, and code or organize all expenses related to your response to COVID-19 - including technology and computing purchases or upgrades, cleaning supplies, etc.
  • If you have an active and engaged Friends group, leverage them! There are opportunities for fundraising as people seek to donate to favored causes and libraries. Please see section below on “fundraising and grants.”
  • Do you have alternate sources of funding that will need to be accessed, including endowments, gifts, reserves, other investments, etc.?
    • Review your library’s policies on gift and endowment investment, spending, and budgeting. Do these allow flexibility? What long-term planning needs to be developed now to plan for replacing those funds in the future?
    • If you are able to access some of these funds (you may need to talk to your account manager to see what might be possible), the funds might be key to helping the library stay afloat over the next year or so. However, depleting these funds now may not be in the best long-term financial interests of the library. It’s a balancing act between making hard cuts now versus maintaining the long-term financial viability of the library.
  • If you have a capital budget with planned expenses in 2020, consider modifying or delaying these expenses if the money can be used to bridge an operational gap in 2020 and 2021. Capital budgeting “rules” differ between municipalities, so the funds may not be flexible or reallocatable. In some towns, libraries build capital budget funds from revenue sources like impact fees or from annual operational budget surpluses. These may be repurposed; seek the advice of the town administrator. Incorporated libraries, as corporations, generally have more flexibility in making changes in mid-year budgets.
  • Have you assessed which of your services are essential/necessary and which you need to cut to accommodate budget cuts?
    • As you balance out what is necessary vs. what is “really nice to have,” consider the priorities of your community and the implications of each cut. Also consider which cuts might be easier to communicate to stakeholders and funders—and the political ramifications for each cut helping funders realize the importance of the library to the community.
  • If you are asked to limit spending to “necessary,” or “absolute essentials,” what do you and your Board deem essential? Do you base your decisions on the needs of your community and/or the priorities of your funders/stakeholders?
  • Can you suspend purchases for materials that rely on in-library use (e.g. periodicals, newspapers)?
  • Can you save costs by adjusting your facilities operations (adjust thermostats, reduce electricity use, etc.)?

Personnel

  • How many staff can you keep on the payroll; whom do you need to lay off? Consider fringe costs in this assessment and whether union contracts come into play.
  • Personnel are generally the biggest portion of a public library’s budget. If you find yourself in the regrettable position of reducing payroll, please consider the following:
    • If you are a municipal library, reach out to town administrators for any guidance they may offer. As members of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, you should have access to VLCT’s staff of certified HR Professionals and attorneys.
    • Incorporated libraries should consult with legal counsel to review planned actions.
    • Always refer to your personnel policy for direction on layoffs and terminations. A complete personnel policy will have steps that you must take, even in cases of financial exigency. 
    • Selection of employees for termination or layoff: You should be clear about the selection criteria that identify traits and skills that will be instrumental in meeting your library’s needs and goals. Factors might include seniority, job performance (this underlines the importance of annual performance appraisals and regularly-scheduled formal check-ins), job classification, knowledge and skills (refer to job description), etc.
    • Avoid disparate action: Be aware of adverse actions on federally- and state-protected classes such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, genetic information, age (40 or over), those with a disability or those who have veteran status, or sexual orientation.
    • Union Shops: If your workers are part of a union, their termination or layoff benefits and protocols should be in the contract. As a library supervisor with a collective bargaining agreement, working closely with legal counsel will save you from misstep and additional heartache, and possibly from legal action.
  • What is your PPP eligibility? (Nonprofit incorporated libraries may be eligible; municipal libraries are not.) Does PPP make sense for your library?
  • How will employer charges for unemployment insurance claims by your employees (sometimes known as “chargebacks”) affect your budget after potential layoffs?
  • Can you afford to provide paid sick leave if employees become sick for COVID-19-related reasons? (Refer to your personnel policy.)
  • Could your budget be affected by staff calling in sick, taking short-term disability, or being absent for other COVID-19 related issues?
  • Do you have the funds to pay overtime or hire substitutes/temps to fill in for absences?

Fundraising and Grant-Seeking

  • Have you considered the possibility of fundraising?
  • If you are already fundraising, how can you shift it from in-person to online? Are you working with your Friends group to develop plans for future fundraising? (While some people might be against raising money right now [as they will want fundraising to focus on feeding and housing people], fundraisers that build community and bring people joy are also important, and the library - as a community-building organization - can excel in this.) Examples of online fundraising:
  1. Stay Home and Read fundraisers:
  2. Tech Soup offered a webinar recently on moving fundraising events online - a link to the recording: https://youtu.be/BzSDRHaFJvA
  3. Try a Facebook Live Online Book Sale Event. People watch your Facebook live event where you present books/sets of books with a price and a number, and the first person to comment “SOLD + [the number]” wins the books at the stated price. For an example of this, watch: https://www.facebook.com/lplfriendsfoundation/videos/325905471712458/UzpfSTk0OTkwMzkzNjQ5OjEwMTU3NTg4Njk4MDQ4NjUw/
  • Are you continuing to engage/communicate with your funders?
    • It’s important to keep in touch with your funders/donors to let them know about your continued work with the community. While some donors may be focused on other organizations right now, you don’t want them to forget about you. Some donors may prefer to continue giving to the library (rather than to other organizations), and you don’t want them to think you’ve disappeared or are too busy to reach out and connect with them. Continued relationship-building and communication is important— whether or not you are actively asking donors for funding.
  • Can you partner with local nonprofits to collaborate on fundraising?
    • Consider how the library can help other organizations during this time of need – to build community and goodwill. Some libraries, for example, are partnering with the local food shelf to raise awareness of food insecurity in their communities.
  • What grant opportunities are you eligible for? Can you apply for grants in collaboration with your Board and Friends? Can you partner with a local nonprofit to write joint grants?
  • Do you have a regular group of summer residents on whom you depend for donations? How will the library stay connected with your regular summer residents if—because of residual effects from the Pandemic—they don’t make the journey to VT this summer?
    • If you have their address, consider reaching out to remind them that you are thinking of them during this challenging time and want to keep them updated as to what the library is doing to help the community.

Advocacy

  • Advocacy Resources: https://libraries.vermont.gov/services/public_libraries/strategic_planning
  • What follow-up communications might you engage in now to reconnect with the SelectBoard, town administration, town clerk, taxpayers, volunteers, patrons, and donors?
  • How can you help stakeholders realize that the library—even if it is physically closed—is still an essential resource that is meeting the community’s needs and is worthy of funding?
    • What advice can these stakeholders give you about communicating with them and with the public moving forward?
    • Making plans around this type of relationship-building with your community is vital, especially during this time when the future funding of the institution may be in jeopardy.
    • Consider phone calls, emails, letters, social media posts, Front Porch Forum posts, newsletters, newspaper advertisements, etc.
  • What strategies worked during the budget process for Town Meeting? What might you do differently next year – and what can you start doing now to lay the groundwork for next Town Meeting?
    • It may seem early to start planning, but the advocacy work you start implementing now will help build the important relationships for future support.
  • How will you engage your supporters in advocacy work on behalf of the library?
    • Consider letting supporters know how they can help the library as potential budget cuts approach. If the library is partnering with other local organizations to do fundraising, can you engage supporters in those efforts?
    • Ask supporters if they can send a short written note or video recorded on their phone (that you can edit together with other videos) in which they talk about how the library has affected their lives and what they enjoy about their library. Use these notes and videos as you create advocacy materials.