As the Minnesota State Legislature heads into the final weeks of its 2015 session, the staff, volunteers and patrons of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library System (LARL) - which includes the Detroit Lakes Public Library - are hoping to receive some good news.

For just the second time in the last 20 years, LARL and the other 12 regional library systems in the state are asking local legislators to support an increase in the Regional Library Basic Support System (RLBSS) - as well as a change in the funding formula itself.

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“About 20 percent of our annual operating budget comes from RLBSS funding,” says Liz Lynch, LARL regional director.

And while the member cities and counties of LARL - which fund about 70 percent of its budget through a joint powers agreement - remain a steady source of support, the state part of the equation is a great deal more volatile, she added.

“The (RLBSS) funding has four factors that it’s based on,” Lynch said. “The percentage of state population (in each regional library system), the percentage of (land) area in each system, a basic amount each library system receives, and something called equalization.”

The equalization aid is based on the regional library system’s adjusted net tax capacity per capita, which can fluctuate quite a bit from year to year, she added.

“What we’re hoping is that the equalization percentage (of the formula) goes down a bit, from 25 to 15 percent, and the basic system support (which is the same for each regional library system) goes up, from 5 to 15 percent,” Lynch said. “That would really help our funding stream from year to year.

“We’re also asking for an additional $5 million (in overall funding),” she added. “We’ve only asked for one other increase in RLBSS over the last 20 years. The cost of operating the regional library systems has gone up a lot in those 20 years.”

But it’s the funding formula itself that is actually the bigger issue, Lynch added.

“Since 2009, LARL has lost over $240,000 in RLBSS funding, because of the housing crisis that occurred in the metro area in 2008,” she said. “The money started to go from the rural areas to the metro area.”

And while that trend could turn back in the rural area’s favor at any time, the real problem is the instability of the equalization formula, Lynch noted.

“Every year, when we’re trying to create our operating budget, we don’t know how much we’ll lose (because of fluctuations in the funding formula),” she added. “If these bills would pass, at least we would have a better idea what we’re going to get and have some stability.

“We really appreciate everything we get from all our cities and counties,” Lynch added. “They’re all very supportive of the regional library system and they have a good understanding of how these systems are an effective and efficient way to provide library services in rural areas.”

What she and her fellow regional library directors are hoping for is the same kind of support at the state level. The changes to the RLBSS funding formula, if approved, would take effect July 1.

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