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Budget Resources and Tips

Simplified budget "equation"

At its simplest level, to calculate the amount to request from your municipality (C):

  • Estimate your expenditures for the coming year. (A)
  • Estimate revenues you will receive from other sources.  (B)
  • A - B = C

However,this can be an oversimplification.  If you don't get all that you estimate from other sources, you will still need enough to operate.  Providing this "cushion" is the responsibility of the municipality which established the library. 

Similarly, if you get more than you expect, or a healthy increase, from another source (for example, your county), that doesn't relieve the municipality of their responsibility—rather, it should be an opportunity for the library to pursue new initiatives, or to make up for past budget shortfalls.

Estimating Expenditures



  • Books:  Bowker Annual (in Madison Public Library Reference Collection—new edition typically available in July)
  • Periodicals:  Library Journal (every April)
  • Media:
    • Check with your vendors
    • Review prices in stores and online
  • Electronic resources:  You receive information about your costs for databases in the fall of each year
  • Other


  • Check with your vendors
  • LINKcat
  • Delivery
  • Library Online
  • Continuing education, conferences
  • Other

Estimating Revenue

County payments.  Wisconsin Statutes 43.12 requires counties (that don't maintain a consolidated county library) to reimburse libraries in the county, and adjacent counties, for serving residents that aren't residents of a municipality that maintains a public library. 

Formula (all figures come from your most recent annual report):

  • Your total operating expenditures.  (A)
  • Any federal funds spent on operating expenditures.  (B)
  • Your total circulation.  (C)
  • Your circulation to county residents who live in municipalities that don't maintain a public library.  (D)
  • ((A-B) / C) x D x 70% = Minimum amount county owes your library

System (state aid) payments. Most member libraries receive a small amount of system funds for Summer Library Program (SLP) activities.

Federal. You may receive some LSTA funds through an SCLS grant, or if you applied for and were awarded one on your own.

Funds carried forward. It is the opinion of DLTCL that the exclusive control of the library board includes the authority to carry forward unexpended funds from one year to the next.

Statutes related to municipal library budgets

Exemption from county tax. The municipality must appropriate at least enough to exempt from the library portion of the county tax, or its residents will be "double taxed" (by both the municipality and the county) for library services.  Wis. Stat. 43.64

Board's exclusive control. The library board, not the municipality, has exclusive control of the money appropriated for the library fund.  Wis. Stat. 43.58(1)

(A third statute, commonly called "Maintenance of Effort," was eliminated in the 2011-2013 Wisconsin State Budget.  Your municipality is no longer required to appropriate for your operating budget at least the average of their operating appropriation for the previous 3 years.) 

Two types of budgets (there are others)

Line item budget

  • Commonly used, and may be the format your municipality requires.
  • Contains categories ("lines") of expenditures, for example:
    • Personnel
    • Materials
    • Equipment
    • Etc. 
    • Each may be broken down further
  • Sample (in Word)

Program budget

  • Organized around programmatic areas, for example:
    • Administration
    • Youth services
    • Circulation
    • Reference
    • Technical Services
    • Public Programs
    • Etc.
  • May be sub-arranged in line item style
  • Divide salaries, supplies, equipment, contracts, etc. up, and put under each program area.
  • Allows you to see how much is spent on each area. 
  • Not easy to do, but powerful
  • If your municipality requires a line-item budget, you can back it up with program budget.  When a line in your line item budget is challenged (for example, telecommunication) you can show your program budget and ask "from which program do you suggest telecommunication be removed?"
  • Sample (in Excel)

Tips to help you get the local funds you request

Budget format.  Use the format and guidelines your municipality requires, but back them up with documented information about what you really need.

Percentages.  Municipal officials will often talk about percentages.  It is wise to try to deflect this, by explaining that 2% of the library's budget, for example, is very different from 2% of the budget for streets. 

Levy limits.  For 2012 budgets, municipalities are under a tax levy limit of 0%, or the percentage of net new construction, whichever is greater, OR they may exceed these limits if approved by referendum.   (Net New Construction figures typically become available in August.) During these years, local governments can also calculate their limit based on the prior year’s allowable, as opposed to actual, tax levy.   You may find the Department of Revenue's FAQ on Levy Limits and the League of Wisconsin Muncipalities' Explanation and Strategies page helpful.

Documentation.  It helps to back up the amounts in your budget request with a carefully chosen blend of statistics and anecdotes.

  • Statistics.   Numbers show that your library is being used, and can point out funding inequities.  Your most recent annual report is a good source for statistics, but you can also keep additional statistics.  For your budget proposal, choose statistics that illustrate the need you describe.  For example (in Word) , show that circulation has dramatically increased, while local funding has remained flat. 
  • "Break it Down."  It can be hard for any of us to grasp what is meant by huge dollar amounts.  A $20,000 increase in the municipal appropriation for a small municipal library may sound like a lot to some people.  But by dividing the increase by the municipal population, you can say something like, "The increase translates to less than $14 per capita, or less than 3¢ per day.  What else can you buy for 3 cents?  Isn't it worth it a small price to pay for an investment in the future for our children?"
  • Testimonials / Anecdotes.  While numbers and statistics are impressive, it may be easier for your audience to relate to real life stories from satisfied customers.  An example might be something like “Last month my husband was diagnosed with a rare health condition. Library staff members helped me find useful information, and locate a specialist 200 miles away. I don’t know what we would have done without the library.”   Keep a file of these so you can pull them out at budget time. 

Presentation.  In addition to your budget request, and your written documentation, it is wise to make an oral presentation.  The following tips may help you:

  • Make sure you know the audience and that they know you.  Budget time should not be the only time they hear about how wonderful the public library is.
  • Take members of your library board and Friends group with you.  Even better, let the library board president make the presentation. 
  • Don't use jargon.  Explain any acronyms.
  • Be pleasant—Don't let the encounter become adversarial. 
  • Use some (not too much!) humor.
  • Be brief.

After the budget appropriation is approved.  

This is time for library director and board to review how the budget process went:

  • Did you get what you asked for?
  • Why or why not?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • If you did not get all that you asked for, how will you reallocate your budget lines?
  • No matter what, it is always important to say "Thank You!"  You will have to go back to these same folks and ask for money again. 

Typical Budget calendar

(adapted from "Developing the Library Budget", DPI.  Your actual calendar may vary)

  • Review annual report for trends, needed changes, etc.
  • Review strategic plan and progress toward goals
  • Review current year revenue and expenditures
  • Municipality sets budget calendar and process
  • After discussion with board, director drafts preliminary budget
Late Summer / Early Fall
  • Board approves or revises budget
  • Director submits board-approved budget request to municipality
  • Director prepares documentation for budget hearing
  • Budget reviewed by mayor, administrator, or finance committee
  • May request additional information
  • Budget hearing
  • Final budget approval

Late fall

(post approval)

  • Thank-you's
  • Reallocate budget lines if necessary
  • Evaluate, make notes for next year
  • Monitor expenditures


For more information, contact: