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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

/> The budget was approved 16-1, with the lone no vote coming from Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn, chairman of the board of county commissioners.

"I'm not against libraries. I'm not against reading. I'm not against books,” Vaughn said. "But I sit on a board that manages the entire county ... and we are in our third year of cutting our budget, so when I saw what the budget was going to be for the library, I just couldn't in good conscience vote to approve that.”

Next year's $55 million library system budget is a 7.8 percent increase from this fiscal year's $51 million budget.

The budget's $18 million surplus will go in a reserve fund for future library construction or renovations, Terry said.

Timing said to be wrong
At the state level, hundreds of state agency employees have lost their jobs or been furloughed in the past year.

Lawmakers passed a $6.7 billion budget in May that is 7.6 percent less than the current year's budget.

The largest state worker's group, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, spent considerable time during this past Legislative session lobbying lawmakers to save state workers' jobs.

Typically, the group lobbies for pay and benefits increases.

OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley said "it is difficult to imagine a scenario” this year in which a public agency like the library system could justify salary increases and a multimillion dollar budget surplus.

"Our association would not begrudge a public employee a pay raise in most circumstances but the timing of this along with the large carryover in their budget does not look good to the association nor is it easily sold to the public,” Zearley said.