Chesterton Tribune



Library board mulling 2021 cost of living adjustment for workers

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The Westchester Public Library Board reviewed a draft of its 2021 budget at its meeting Thursday. The draft so far does not include the historical two percent cost of living adjustment for employees.

Due to economic uncertainty from COVID-19, Library Director Lisa Stamm said she has opted to leave out the Board’s annual transfer of excess funds to the Library Improvement Reserve Fund (LIRF) and the annual two percent cost of living adjustment.

Board Secretary Michele Corazzo started a discussion about the cost of living adjustment, saying she wasn’t happy with its exclusion. Stamm said the two percent bump would cost approximately $30,000 if all 80 positions at WPL were staffed. Since WPL is not fully staffed, and Stamm said she doesn’t plan to hire any new full-time staff this year, the actual cost would be lower.

Corazzo said she would prefer to prioritize finding the money for employees, since cost of living has gone up due to the pandemic. Stamm said other libraries are having to cut staff and salariesÑsomething she wants to avoidÑand she didn’t make the decision to leave out the raise lightly.

Stamm also said she was less concerned about the amount a raise would cost and more about the optics of giving a raise in dire economic times. Board Attorney Terry Hiestand noted WPL may be poised to take a major hit in its tax revenue, since some property tax adjustments made in favor of NIPSCO are expected to negatively impact Westchester Township’s assessed value (AV).

Stamm said staffing is not where she’ll start if the need for cuts arises. “If I have to make cuts later, materials is actually the first place I’ll go because we have a robust materials budget,” she said, noting WPL is far above the State minimum for materials. “We could bring that down easily and still have a very healthy collection. That’s my preference. That’s where I will always start before I start with staff,” Stamm said.

Member Kathy Cochran noted the cost of living adjustment could be added in later, and added that including it in the draft could be an empty gesture if they later decide they can’t offer it. Member Mike Livovich agreed. “I think it’s reasonable on holding off just because of the uncertainty,” he said.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re doing our best to strike some sort of balance. It’s the best we can do to sort of prepare for the worst,” Board President Nick Tilden said.

The Board members decided to think over the draft for another month and discuss it again in July. The final version is not usually adopted until September.

In other budget business, Stamm reported she’s planning for library services to be drastically different for the next one to three years due to COVID-19 precautions, so she plans to increase spending on downloadable digital materials, including Hoopla, RBDigital, OverDrive, and eReaders, from $81,000 to $155.554 in 2021. The new budget also allocates $50,000 for database subscriptions, a $10,000 increase over 2020.

Stamm bumped up the cleaning supplies line item from $18,000 to $30,000 and building materials and supplies from $16,000 to $30,000 in anticipation of higher costs and greater demand for items like hand sanitizer and disinfectant and to provide resources for maintenance to build and maintain items such as hanging partitions for service desks.


Stamm reported plans are in the works for how to safely reopen the Library. There is not yet a go date for reopening, but Stamm said she’s aiming for early July, in accordance with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Statewide reopening plan. Homebound deliveries will also resume when WPL reopens to the public. WPL maintenance staff is busy building clear, hanging partitions for the service desks. When WPL does open, it will be in the form of a “quick browse” model.

The board approved a policy on how patrons will be required to behave in the Library once it reopens. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, patrons will be allowed to visit WPL in only 30 minute increments and will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing while inside. For patrons who don’t want to come inside or object to wearing masks, WPL will continue to offer curbside pickup, Stamm said.

“The Library is responsible to keep staff and the community as safe as realistically possible, whether during normal times or during a pandemic. As staff are in our buildings for hours at a time, and we typically average 350,000 thousand visits per year, during a pandemic it’s key to reduce the amount of time that patrons may spend in the buildings,” Stamm said.

In the meantime, Stamm reported curbside pickup has been popular, and she plans to make it a permanent service. WPL loaned 658 items in just the first two days, and patrons are giving positive feedback, she said.

Other Business

In other business, the Board voted to reestablish WPL’s nonresident card fee at the same rate: $175. The nonresident fee applies mostly to out-of-state residents. Most Northwest Indiana residents outside of Westchester Township who have cards at their home libraries can get WPL cards as part of reciprocal agreements.

The asbestos and lead paint survey of WPL’s four buildings came in under budget by more than a thousand dollars, Stamm said, and retuned generally good results. There are some materials that contain lead or asbestos, but those materials as they are do not create dust that can be inhaled and will not need remediation unless WPL starts renovations that would affect them.

In May, WPL staff held 21 virtual programs that had a combined 1,456 views. WPL social media interactions are also up due to daily Facebook challenges such as the Haiku challenge in April and the National Photography month challenge in May. This month, patrons are invited to “Caption This” on photos from the Westchester Town History Museum archive.



Posted 6/17/2020





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