Funding the Public Library

Though every city is not required to have a physical library, the service to the citizens is to be provided according to the Code of Iowa. There are several sections of the Code that, 1) authorize cities to create or change the composition of a library board (Code Section 392.5), 2) address local financial support (Code Section 256.69), and 3) requires the use of separate accounts for revenues and expenditures for the program (Code Section 384.20).

Each city should have an ordinance establishing the library and library board. This ordinance lays out the governance of the library, such as how board members are appointed, the powers and duties of the library board and the procedure for approving and paying bills. The library board, in turn, has the authority to create policies designed to provide broadly stated, written guidelines for actions and decisions of the library. The library’s policies should be consistent with its mission and with city policies.

Code of Iowa, 256.69 – Local financial support

“Commencing July 1, 1977, each city within its corporate boundaries and each county within the unincorporated area of the county shall levy a tax of at least six and three-fourths cents per thousand dollars of assessed value on the taxable property or at least the monetary equivalent thereof when all or a portion of the funds are obtained from a source other than taxation, for the purpose of providing financial support to the public library which provides library services within the respective jurisdictions.”

This section sets the basic requirement for city governments to provide financial support for public library services. Note that it does not dictate each city to directly provide library services, allowing for various service options such as contracting with another city or governmental entity.

Code of Iowa, 384.20 – Separate accounts

“A city shall keep separate accounts corresponding to the programs and items in its adopted or amended budget, as recommended by the committee. A city shall keep accounts which show an accurate and detailed statement of all public funds collected, received or expended for any city purpose, by any city officer, employee or other person, and which show the receipt, use and disposition of all city property. Public moneys may not be expended or encumbered except under an annual or continuing appropriation.”

Libraries, like many city operations, have been forced to diversify their funding to sustain basic service levels. Many seek grants or donations to augment services or provide special services. All of these revenues and expenditures must be declared to the city to ensure compliance with Code Section 384.20 as well as budgeting or amendment filings (Code Section 384.16).

The Iowa Library Trustee’s Handbook 2021written and distributed by the State Library of Iowa, discusses the funding relationship with the city in Chapter 9. The handbook provides an excellent overview of revenues and expenditures.

One additional observation on funding for the library board: certain Friends of the Library or Library Foundations are established to aid in the purposes of the city library. Though these funds are not property under the description of Code Section 384.20 until given to the city, they may be subject to inclusion in the city audit or oversight examination if it can be determined that the organizations’ support is a substantial financial influence on the library operation. This determination is defined by Government Accounting Standards Board with Statement No. 39, Determining Whether Certain Organizations Are Component Units. The city clerk/finance director or the city’s auditor can assist in collecting information for the report.

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