BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With recent discussions surrounding the tightening of city finances, Fort Madison Public Library officials are finding themselves looking ahead to possible changes in staffing and hours.
At Thursday’s regular Public Library Board meeting, the board discussed, but made no changes to, the current staffing levels and hours at the library.
Library Director Sarah Clendineng updated the board on several recent discussions during city budget workshops of cutting a full-time person from the library.
Support local journalism. Make your Pen City Current subscription donation here.
“Something that came up and blindsided me at the Feb. 19th meeting, one councilman discussed that, through attrition, if we had a full-time employee retire then have the city marketing director work part-time for the library and part-time for the city,” Clendineng said.
“After talking with the City Manager, there was a questions about if that would be a significant savings…and the buildings are 10 blocks apart. If she’s working close with him on marketing, being here at the library may not be the best way to handle that manage that position. So there’s some concerns there.”
Clendineng said the staff is appropriate compared to other cities’ circulation and revenue numbers.
Fort Madison City Councilman Matt Mohrfeld suggested on Feb. 5 that the library not fill a full-time position that could be coming open due to retirement. Clendineng responded that to eliminate a position would require cutting hours at the library.
Mohrfeld responded by asking why, because the city parks department maintains all the city parks with less staff.
Clendineng told the board Thursday that in light of current city budget constraints, the board should be looking at options going forward, despite nothing being cut from the library’s budget for the next fiscal year.
“I did want to start talking about possible scenarios since this came up. I think other people may be discussing it, so I’d like to get the board’s opinion,” she said.
Clendineng told the board that if the library lost a part-time person, they could potentially absorb the position, but then the library would not be able to stay open til 7 p.m. on Thursday.
“If we cut staff, we cut hours,” Board Chairman Ron Welder said. “There isn’t any way to work around losing some hours the library is open.”
Clendineng agreed, saying the library is probably open longer than current staffing would typically allow.
“We are open as many hours as we can be with the employees we have. If we lose any staff, we don’t have any extra hours. And quite frankly, we might be open slightly more hours than we should be,” she said.
“If a full-time employee retires, someone mentioned going to a 35-hour a week position rather than a 40-hour, but if the replacement needed health insurance, it would wipe out any savings we would see.”
She said it also causes an issue with making sure there are two people in the buildings at all times.
Mohrfeld said the parks department runs with 2 full-time and 2 part-time which is less staff than the library. The city does take advantage of some limited Mt. Pleasant inmate labor.
Clendineng said what the parks employees do is very important, but that staff, in addition to maintenance, isn’t being asked to staff the parks, or teach the public the best way to play games in the park, or to reserve park facilities for them.
“From what I know, the parks department may need more employees,” Welder said.
Clendineng said it’s a good time to start thinking about the options because city leaders are looking at them as well.
“I think it’s worth considering because the city’s financial position is not improving as has been mentioned and they are getting to the point where expenditures are exceeding revenues. If that doesn’t change this may be something the board needs to look at in the future,” she said.
She said in the event someone does retire, she would come back to the board for a discussion, but the current budget as presented does not have a funding reduction for the library.
In a related, but separate discussion topic, Clendineng also had the board look at the possibility of moving Saturday hours to earlier in the day. She said the change is being prompted by security issues for the staff as well as addressing keeping part-time hours under 26 per week.
Clendineng was looking at possibly moving the hours from the current 10 to 3 p.m. to a morning 9:15 or 9:30 opening and 1 p.m. closing.
Board member Ron Welder said he wouldn’t want to see the hours moved back up if avoidable.
“What other options, if any, are viable?” Welder asked.
Clendineng said she could look at rearranging staff schedules during the week, but she said she didn’t know how that would impact the weekly hours. But she said she would favor a 10:30 open on Saturday to allow more time to get the library open and have both staffers come in at 10 to keep from having a staffer in the library alone.
Clendineng said the traffic at the library on Saturday varies widely and she said there is really no rhyme or reason to the traffic levels.
“It depends on what else is going on and weather. There are just so many factors. It does slow down in the afternoon.”
I think it’s worthy of further discussion,” Welder said.
The issue will come up again at the board’s March meeting.