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Less bucks for books

Stanislaus County Library sees reduction in staff, days

Less bucks for books

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POSTED April 27, 2010 11:41 p.m.

The Stanislaus County Library is the target of the latest round of county budget cuts, falling to service levels not seen since before the 1995 adoption of a one-eighth cent library sales tax.

As a result of a unanimous decision by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the library will cut nine of its 81 full-time employees, including four librarians. The library will also delete four more full-time positions that are currently unfilled.

In addition, the county will reduce 20 percent of the part-time library workforce, losing 16 of 78 part-timers.

“April is the cruelest month,” said County Librarian Vanessa Czopek, quoting from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.”

The downsized employees will work their last day on June 25.

Declining sales tax revenues precipitated the reduction in forces, as the voter-approved one-eighth of a cent library sales tax pays for 84 percent of the county library’s budget. This year, that sales tax is projected to generate just $6.2 million, down $1.1 million from a year ago and nearly $3 million from the high point in the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

Despite the decrease in funding, costs have increased nearly two percent since a year ago. Previously negotiated salary increases, benefit costs, and rising maintenance and utility costs contribute to the rising costs.

Czopek said the library will go as far as unplugging copy machines and turning down water heaters in attempts to cut costs as much as possible without reducing services.

The county library already endured one round of cuts in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, losing employees, closing each branch one day of the week, and cutting the budget for books and materials.

Tuesday’s cuts include a revision to the library’s operating schedule, which will see the Modesto main branch close each Friday and the Keyes branch close an extra day. As the Modesto branch serves as the center for library operations, the new schedule necessitates that all branches shift their closed day to Friday.

According to Czopek, Friday was selected as it is the least busy day system wide.

“Our goal is to preserve as much public access as possible,” Czopek said.

With the change, all county libraries will be closed each Friday and Sunday. Branch offices in Denair, Hughson, Empire, and Newman will also be closed on Mondays.

The Keyes office will be open Monday through Thursday, but closed Friday through Sunday. To make up for the lost day, operating hours will be extended by 30 minutes each day the branch is open.

In total, the change reduces the available system wide library hours by 13 each week, from 487 hours to 474.

Despite the cutbacks, Czopek said the libraries would continue to serve the public.

“All libraries will still provide story time, summer reading, reference materials, and friendly, excellent, customer service,” Czopek said.

Czopek emphasized increased future use of the county library’s online, virtual branch and other cost-effective means for county residents to easily find needed materials. Already, customers can checkout books, sign up for internet use, and pick up held books without the help of a librarian.

The library will also look to volunteers to supplant some of the lost employees, with increased volunteer opportunities at every branch. The books and materials budget will decline 61 percent this year as part of the cuts, but Czopek remained hopeful that Friends of the Library groups will help offset the losses.

The library has a long history of funding challenges, dating back to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which reduced county property tax revenues. As a result, in 1986 the library cut 50 percent of its budget, followed by a further 40 percent reduction in 1994.

After the 1994 cuts, the Modesto branch of the library was open only 27 hours a week, while smaller branches were open for just 10 hours each week. At that time, the library offered no services for children or teens, no telephone reference services, and no electronic resources.

Community outrage over those cuts led to the 1995 passage of a one-eighth cent sales tax, the revenues of which went directly to county libraries. That tax was reapproved by voters in 1999 and 2004, and will return to the ballot in 2012.

Though the most recent round of cuts will reduce access to the library, there will still be more access to the library than in 1994, thanks to that sales tax. The Modesto main branch will be open for 51 hours a week, and smaller branches will offer 24 hours of weekly access.

“Without the one-eighth of cent sales tax, there would not be a library today,” Czopek said. “We’re in a better state than most library systems statewide.”

While the library escaped the current round of cuts relatively unscathed, further cuts await the county next year, the final year of a three-year initiative intended to balance the county’s budget.

According to Stanislaus County CEO Rick Robinson, the county has seen a $34 million decline in discretionary revenue since the 2007-2008 fiscal year. That decline is only projected to increase next year.

“Year three you’re going to see cuts that are going to quite frankly decimate some of the departments out there,” said County District 1 Supervisor Bill O’Brien. “Next year is going to be worse than this year. It’s unprecedented.”

Last year, most departments endured a 12 percent cut – five percent for public safety departments – despite the use of $15.3 million in one time funds at the time.

This year, the plan calls for a 9 percent across the board cut. That cut will come on top of an April 2010 5 percent salary cost reduction for all county employees, which generated $13.8 million in savings.

Currently, Stanislaus County has about 3700 employees, less than in January of 2000.

“This is not the first, and I will tell you this morning will not be the last time staffing reduction recommendations come before the Board of Supervisors in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year,” Robinson said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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