The Price County Books-By-Mail program is slated to have its funding cut nearly by half next year, according to discussion surrounding the county’s 2021 budget.
The program, which has existed in Price County since 1979, allows homebound residents and rural citizens to request and receive books through the U.S. Postal Service at no charge. Last year, 131 county residents took advantage of the service and 1,717 books were borrowed through the program.
There are 10 counties in west-central Wisconsin that offer a Books By Mail program.
The proposed county budget for 2021 calls for decreasing the Books By Mail funding from $17,500 to $8,900 — which is expected to carry the program through June of next year.
The funding for the program was first placed on the chopping block on Sept. 10, when the county executive committee met to consider how to balance their drafted budget.
The suggestion to reduce funding for the program received some slight pushback from county supervisor Larry Palacek, who noted that with COVID-19 keeping an unusually high number of people homebound, this seems like an inopportune time to cut the program.
Anyone is eligible for the service if they are homebound, regardless of the reason.
It was pointed out that the program will be able to continue through mid-year 2021.
The $17,500 contributed by the county covers all costs for the program, including the salary of one part-time clerk, mailing costs, twice annual advertising for the program, and new reading materials. It is based out of the third floor of the Park Falls Public Library and is administered by the Park Falls library director Deb Hyde, but is not directly connected to that library with funding, staff, or materials.
The program has a collection of over 20,000 fiction and non-fiction books as well as large print titles. All the books are in paperback format in order to reduce postage costs.
Hyde told the Review that one option for extending the life of the program through 2021 would be to have an employee of the Park Falls Public Library take on the part-time role of clerk for the program. This would mean that the salary would be covered by the City of Park Falls, although the program is designed to benefit the whole of Price County.
According to Park Falls City Administrator Brentt Michalek, the Common Council is aware of this idea and is leaning toward supporting this position through the end of 2021. A final decision will be made by the council at their budget hearing on Nov. 30.
However, if approved, this would be a short-term solution that would need to be readdressed the following year.