The Forest Park Public Library’s board of commissioners approved last week what officials hope will be the library’s last yearly budget before a tax referendum rescues it from the financial woes it has faced in recent years.

The budget is up about five percent from last year, going from $697,500 to just over $731,000. Still, library Director Rodger Brayden said the library is still just scraping by, forced to pay its employees far less than libraries in surrounding communities.

“It affects our ability to attract really good people, and once we have them it affects our ability to keep them,” he said.

For example, a reference librarian job in Forest Park recently posted at the Metropolitan Library System Web site paid $31,050. The same job at Concordia University’s Klinck Library had a starting salary in the low $40,000s. A part-time reference librarian job at the Oak Park Public Library paid $18.69 per hour, while the Highland Park Public Library paid up to almost $26 per hour.

The salary issue, according to Brayden, likely resulted in the recent departure of Youth Services librarian Kathy Mielecki, who just started in September. She left for a position in one of the Chicago public libraries.

In the coming fiscal year, the library will spend $352,610 or 48 percent of its budget on salaries for its six full-time employees and about 20 part time workers. About four years ago, the library had 33 employees, but recent layoffs have trimmed the staff. Still, Brayden said the library’s budget allotment for salaries is pretty much standard. His research shows other villages with similar tax bases typically spend between 37 and 58 percent of their budget on salaries.

Brayden said the library would like to replace some of those who were laid off in addition to raising salaries for remaining employees if the referendum is passed.

About 90 percent of the library’s funding comes from property taxes, according to Brayden. A yearly per-capita grant from the State of Illinois, which gives the library $1.25 for each person it serves according to the latest U.S. Census (amounting to just under $20,000 per year) accounts for another 6 percent, with the rest coming from video rentals, fines and other desk income.

Considering its reliance on property taxes, Brayden said, the library has suffered even more than other government bodies from tax cap laws which limit funding increases to the lesser of either 5 percent or the year’s Consumer Price Index (CPI).

“We’re in a bit of a straight jacket,” he said.

The library’s collection budget for the year will be about $102,165, or 14 percent of its overall budget. In order to continue receiving its yearly grant from the state, Brayden said, the library must spend at least 12 percent of its funds on collections, which he said has been a struggle despite the low salaries.

The library will budget about $73,000 for buildings and grounds and $22,000 for computer technology. Brayden noted that if equipment were to break or emergency repairs were needed, the library has a separate asset replacement fund made up of money that had not been spent at the end of each fiscal year.

This money, however, cannot be used for computer upgrades, another goal the library would strive for if granted additional funding.

“Our computers are definitely well behind the curve,” said Brayden.

With all other line items taken care of, only $5,500 is left in the budget for programming, $4,000 of which will go towards children’s programs.

The library board is scheduled to vote on the amount of the referendum the library will seek in the November elections at its May 15 meeting.