Both the San Jose and Hemet budgets are well-organized and easy to follow. Both represent realistic goals for their communities and seem to be fiscally sound. Where these two differ is in their allocation of funds and underlying focus of the budget.
The San Jose budget is highly detailed, providing in depth descriptions of staffing levels and programs throughout the library. In fact, rather than being a straight line item budget, San Jose’s budget is program-based, constructed with large goals (promoting lifelong learning and providing access to information) as main areas for excellence, with various tasks, programs, and staffing needs assigned to one of these broad goals. This budget was obviously created during a time of cutbacks for the city of San Jose, which is reflected in overall budget reduction of 7.4%. In the detailed description of staffing needs, several positions (7) that had been eliminated previously remain so, and additional positions (4) are being eliminated in this budget cycle. The advantage of a program-based budget such as this is that whoever is overseeing the funds allocated for a particular program would be able to make the decisions about how those funds were used. For example, a program such as Books for Little Hands has staff allocated (2.5 FTE) and a budget of $172,883. Without knowing much about the program, one can assume that there will be materials expenses (purchase of the actual books to put into the little hands) and also some programming expenses (maybe preschool story time falls under this umbrella? Or maybe there is a First 5 Program element?). With the money allocated, lead staff can choose how to spend it to provide the best program for their community. Having this flexibility is important when a library is being asked to scale back; staff has more ownership of the funding for what they oversee.
In contrast, the Hemet Library budget is a traditional line item budget. Rather than showing the extensive staffing detail found in the San Jose budget, all staff allocations are under three lines: full-time staff, part-time staff and benefits. Other general areas include the Collection, Supplies, and Staff Development. In contrast to the San Jose budget, Hemet’s budget appears to be during a time of recovery, showing an overall 7% increase in funding. This is reflected in money being allocated for staff to attend conferences and training, which had dramatic increases in allocations, and the addition of a couple new reference databases for the public. Staff training and travel budgets are usually among the first items cut when economic times are tough, and that is reflected in the prior year’s limited allocation of funding in these areas. Although a traditional line item budget is less flexible for staff because the amount in each line is the amount available to spend (so “book” money often cannot be reallocated to “supplies” for example), it is easier for managers to see exactly what is being spent for each type of purchase.
As a library staff person, I prefer knowing exactly how my governing body wants to see funds used. With a program budget, I can see room for staff being surprised if the governing body is not satisfied with the division of funding. For example, if a program had $1000 to spend, and staff chose to spend half that amount on materials and supplies, and half on programs, there might be room for the governing body to say later that this was not the way they would have liked to see the funding spent because they wanted more money spent on public programs. In a line item budget, the funding could already be allocated between materials and programs, leading to less confusion, and less room for interpretation, making it easier for staff to know what is expected of them budget-wise.