January 20, 2021

Librarians take pay cut

Responding to city’s budget requests, Newton Public Library proposes salary reductions and to remove staff from city pay plan

Four, full-time staff at the Newton Public Library are taking reductions in salary and are removing themselves from the city’s pay plan in order to meet budgeting demands for fiscal year 2022, according to the financial proposal submitted by library director Nicole Terry.

The library’s administrative assistant will take a 2.3% cut, or about $1,191 in reduced salary; the public services librarian’s salary will be reduced by 2.7%, or $1,844; the youth services librarian’s by 8%, or $6,194; while the director takes the biggest cut: a 10% reduction, or $10,459.

Altogether, the proposed FY22 budget shows a reduction of about $19,688 for current full-time staff, Terry confirmed with Newton News. Combined with a $30,283 payout for a previous employee, the library is seeing a less than $50,000 reduction in salary expenditures.

By the start of FY21, all part-time staff lost their benefits and were removed from the city’s pay plan, which was seen as unsustainable. Now, the full-time staff are expected to be removed, too. All other staff at the library will have their salaries frozen — apart from a new hire that’s hourly — going into FY22.

“No staff at the library are on the pay plan anymore in city hall,” Terry said.

Under the city pay plan, wages for part-timers would increase every year, but they were rising too drastically and would nearly match full-time employee salaries. For instance, a part-time library assistant could start at $16.24 an hour on the city plan, and earn up to $33.26 an hour, plus benefits, after 14 years.

“It started off great,” Terry said. “I just think it needed some changes.”

A past library director successfully proposed this policy in order to retain employees and fairly compensate them for their work. It did just that, but Terry told Newton News in 2019 it may have worked too well. Inevitably, the part-time salaries put a strain on the budget, prompting cuts.

More reductions were to come. Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler released a memo to the city council and the library board in 2019 that claimed the library was being “funded at disproportionately high levels as compared to other city departments and divisions, as well as comparable libraries.”

Last year, Muckler instructed the library board to reduce operations expenses by 3.6%, which would give the library about $669,306 to spend in FY22. He also asked the board to create a secondary budget using only $635,841, in case revenues were much less than expected.

Both budget targets did not include money received from donations.

By Monday, Jan. 4, Terry provided the city council with a budget proposal she says meets those requested reductions.

At first glance, the library’s expenditures total of $683,306 does not meet the city’s request. However, Terry said the $1,000 of donation expenditures, $1,000 of Enrich Iowa expenses and $13,000 of Diehl Estate expenses — $15,000 altogether — would not be counted in the grand total.

If the $15,000 is not included as part of Muckler’s request, the library’s FY22 general fund expenses are currently set at $668,306, thus meeting the 3.6% reduction asked of by city. The Newton library is also not budgeted to spend any money from the Local Option Sales Tax Fund for its salaries this next fiscal year.

“We used to take this money out of LOST, and this year there’s nothing in there because we’re just taking it all out of the general fund,” Terry said. “So it looks like full-time salaries went up and it looks like part-time went up, but actually it’s down by about $50,000.”

Moving forward, Terry said the library board will have to create a new pay plan for full-time library employees. It will have to be economical for the city, as well as competitive and sustainable for the library staff. A new pay plan has already been set up for part-time library workers, but for now they remain frozen.

Terry said, “We’re going to pull our own comparables of all the libraries’ salaries. We’re going to see what they should be making and then take this next year and make a pay plan ourselves, just like we did with the part-time. We took them off then we went back and made a pay plan.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com