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Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System's budget prompts questions

Many government agencies are cutting jobs and services, but Metropolitan Library System's governing body last week approved a budget that includes 11 percent compensation increase and an $18 million surplus.

BY JOHN ESTUS Modified: June 24, 2010 at 8:56 am •  Published: June 24, 2010
Cash-strapped governments looking for page-turner reading are checking out the Metropolitan Library System's financial books.

The Library Commission last week passed a $55 million budget for the system that includes an $18 million surplus and an 11 percent compensation boost for library employees — a stark contrast to the layoffs, furloughs, shortfalls and service reductions affecting most government agencies.

The increase includes a 4 percent hike to employee salaries and wages.

The rest of the increase covers higher insurance costs, said Library Commissioner David Greenwell, the commission's disbursement agent.

"We're in a good position right now,” library system spokeswoman Kim Terry said.

The library system has about 415 employees operating 17 libraries in Oklahoma County.

Its firm financial footing in today's tough economy evoked reactions both envious and curious.

"I'd sure like to know how they did it,” said Gil Hensley, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123, the union that represents Oklahoma City police officers. "Maybe they could give a lesson to some other people in government.”

The Oklahoma City Council last week passed an $876 million budget that includes no raises and cuts 100 city jobs, including 22 police officers.

Half of the city's general fund revenue comes from sales taxes. That differs from the library system, which is "fairly unique” among state library systems because it is funded largely by county property taxes, Terry said.

The library system has received $27.8 million in Oklahoma County property taxes in the past fiscal year, county treasurer records show.

"We don't rely upon sales taxes, which do tend to fluctuate quite a bit based upon the current economic situation,” Greenwell said. "Real estate values tend to be more constant.”

Other budgets

Also largely funded by property taxes are Oklahoma City Public Schools, which plans at least 167 layoffs due to budget shortfalls, and Oklahoma County, which has trimmed its budget the past three years.