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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  ID Government

Idaho Commission for Libraries facing slim budget

Ann Joslin, state librarian with the Idaho Commission for Libraries, addresses the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (Betsy Z. Russell / Idaho Press)
Ann Joslin, state librarian with the Idaho Commission for Libraries, addresses the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (Betsy Z. Russell / Idaho Press)
Idaho Press

The Idaho Commission for Libraries would see a small decrease in state funding next year under Gov. Brad Little’s proposed budget, which calls for a 1.3 percent decline in the commission’s state funding, compared to the 7.4 percent increase the commission requested. But Little’s budget does propose $60,000 for a new grant program for local efforts in which local libraries partner with schools and other organizations to enhance kindergarten readiness.

Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked Commission for LIbraries Director Ann Joslin during her budget hearing this morning, “How did you arrive at the $60,000 figure? In my thinking, kindergarten readiness is such a huge issue. … Sixty thousand dollars seems kind of like the flea trying to consume the elephant. … How will that add value for the state?”

Joslin responded that the commission tends to start out small. “I think we have a history of approaching new programs in this way, starting out small so we can pilot, test, make adjustments,” she said. The program, she said, will “provide ongoing state funding to help libraries partner with their local school districts and other organizations to reach children and their families before they enter school.”

The grants will be small, she said, as small as $5,000 or $10,000. The program was piloted with eight grants this year; there were 14 applications.

“We have learned from long experience that a small amount of funding can make a significant difference to boost the capacity of what a library can do locally,” Joslin told JFAC. “If this is as successful as we think it’s going to be, you might see us back asking for more.”

She noted that libraries also are involved in other early literacy efforts. “Since 1997, our ‘Read to Me’ suite of family and early literacy initiatives has helped parents and caregivers develop their child’s early literacy skills and a love of reading,” she said. “We serve more than 30,000 children and their families in communities throughout the state.”

The Commission for Libraries would receive $4.1 million in state funding next year, under Little’s budget proposal, down from $4.2 million this year. But Little’s budget noted that a fund shift to make up for possible loss of federal funding for the “Talking Book Service” program for the blind was allocated last year, but ended up not being needed, as the federal funds weren’t cut. The commission has continued to propose that that program be moved back onto state funding; it was shifted to federal grant funding during the recession.

The commission supports public, school, academic and special libraries in communities across the state. “Our agency was established in 1901 to provide reading materials to Idahoans via horse-drawn traveling libraries,” Joslin told lawmakers, “and to help in the creation and improvement of free public and school libraries.”

Today, it also provides help to local libraries with everything from broadband internet service to book purchases to summer reading programs.

Hagedorn: Vets beds empty, despite waiting list, for lack of nursing staff

Idaho state Veterans Services Director Marv Hagedorn told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that unlike Office of Drug Policy Administrator Melinda Smyser, whose presentation preceded him and who noted that she’d only been on the job for five days, “I have five months in my position, so my staff has prepared a great presentation.”

Hagedorn said when he started in the post, he was surprised to see that the division is included under the “economic development” category of the state budget. “As I delved into that budget, I understood why,” he said, “because the Veterans Administration has billions, billions of dollars available to states to take care of veterans. So states have created organizations like this. Actually there are 56 organizations throughout the states and territories, and my counterparts are working on these programs to liaison between the Veterans Administration and the veterans of that state to try and maximize the benefits that those veterans can get to bring into the state.”

Hagedorn said the division is facing a big challenge in hiring and retaining nursing staff for the state veterans homes. “Right now we have empty beds with a waiting list, because I don’t have enough medical staff,” he said. “It’s crazy right now to get nurses.”

“We’ve got to be paying them more if we want to keep our beds available for veterans,” Hagedorn told lawmakers.

The division is mostly federal funded; just 2.5 percent of its total budget comes from state funds. Hagedorn said in the future, “We may need to eventually increase our general funds,” between the impact of a decade of war, and the increasing acuity of conditions that Idaho veterans home residents have, meaning they’re “costing us more to take care of.”

“For every dollar that we spend on this organization in general funds, we receive back $480,” Hagedorn told JFAC, “which I think is pretty good ROI.”

There have been significant staffing challenges at the division, Hagedorn said; the division’s turnover rate in 2018 was 29.9 percent, compared to the statewide average of 15.1 percent. Of particular concern is nursing staff, he said. “Unfortunately this is impacting our ability to admit veterans into the nursing homes.”

Last week, he said, the census of Idaho’s three veterans home was at about 89 percent of capacity. “So we’re doing OK, but we’re not doing enough where we have empty beds, and veterans and their families waiting to get into those beds and those beds being open,” he said.

For next year, Gov. Brad Little’s budget proposal for the division reflects a 128.9 percent increase in total funds, largely due to the inclusion of more than $42 million in federal funds for a fourth state veterans home in Post Falls. The budget also includes proposals for $871,100 to increase staff salaries to address turnover. “We’ve got to pay ‘em more; it’s all we can do to keep nurses,” Hagedorn said. There’s also $551,900 for additional staff positions, including temporary nursing positions to be added at all three existing veterans homes. Neither of those line items tap any state general funds.

In state general funds, the budget recommendation shows a 7.9 percent increase, nearly all due to technology services modernization and state employee merit-based salary increases of 3 percent.

“This is not a job for me,” Hagedorn told lawmakers. “This is connecting with … family. … We have an amazing group of people in this organization, and one of the things that we’ve found, if we can get a nurse in the door or a CNA in the door, they love the mission more than their salary. But we can’t get ‘em in the door because the salary levels are so low. Every single person we have in this organization loves the mission. That’s the one common strain that keeps people together. It was so heart-warming for me to join this group of people, because they all love what they’re doing for the veterans.”

Governor proposes near-flat budget for Commission on the Arts

A near-flat budget is being recommended by Gov. Brad Little for next year for the Idaho Commission on the Arts, at a 1.9 percent increase in state general funds. The Arts Commission, established by Gov. Bob Smylie in 1966, is “Idaho’s principal cultural agency,” Director Michael Faison told JFAC this morning, headed by 13 volunteer commissioners appointed by governor from throughout the state. “Every state and territorial jurisdiction has an agency such as ours,” Faison told the Legislature’s joint budget committee.

His original budget request included a request to increase the grants the commission hands out by $25,000 next year, but Little didn’t recommend the boost. “It’s very simple: We support the governor’s recommendation,” Faison told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “We plan for what we have, not what we wish we have. … We’re an arts organization, so if we can’t be creative about that, who can? So we strongly support the governor’s recommendation.”

The governor’s recommendation for the Commission on the Arts for next year is for $856,900 in state general funds; $2,051,700 in total funds, which includes federal pass-through grant funds. In total funds, it’s a 1.5 percent increase. The increase is almost entirely due to the proposed increase in state employee salaries next year of 3 percent, based on merit.

In 2016, the commission’s budget was unexpectedly defeated on the floor of the House in an unrelated squabble between House Democrats and Republicans. Following the defeat, lawmakers drafted a new version with just one difference: An extra $200 from legislators’ private donations to add to the budget for arts education projects.

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