Nevada County saves libraries, plan big cuts

Laura Brown
Sun News Service
Photo for The Union by John HartFormer Nevada County Librarian Madelyn Helling speaks to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

NEVADA CITY “-After hearing a “beyond grim” report on the state’s financial crisis compounded by declining sales tax revenues and a still-stumbling national economy, Nevada County supervisors unanimously voiced support Tuesday for keeping two branches of the county library system open.

Holding signs and filling seats at the Eric Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City, a mix of historians and writers, school board members, former librarians and members of the League of Women Voters pleaded with the board to keep the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research and Bear River Station library open.

Such demonstrations to protect local programs and services could become a common sight as the state eyes county coffers to backfill a projected $24.3 billion budget deficit as California starts the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Proposals to fix the state’s financial crisis include borrowing $2.7 million in property taxes from Nevada County, releasing low-level offenders from state prisons, and totally eliminating programs that help find work for the poor and provide medical coverage for poor children.

With the elimination of such programs, more county residents could turn to general assistance, a cost drain on the county estimated at $600,000, said Deputy County Executive Officer Joe Christoffel. It was unclear how local jails and law enforcement will be impacted by the early release of state prisoners.

If the state follows through on all of its threats to collect from counties, Nevada County stands to lose as much as $11.4 million, according to figures released from the county executive office at Tuesday’s budget hearing.

And the view of state finances is “beyond grim,” said District 5 Supervisor Ted Owens, describing a recent meeting of county officials he attended at the Capitol.

Apart from the library system, county officials are standing their ground on making deep cuts elsewhere to balance the budget, fiercely determined to preserve their $19 million in reserves they saved up during the good times, a pot of money they hope not to draw upon until the darkest of days they believe lie ahead.

Owens likened the county’s reserves to a crew’s rations aboard a ship out at sea.

“Yes, we have reserves, but they are not something we should touch if we don’t have to,” Owens said.

District 4 Supervisor Hank Weston agreed.

“What little reserves we have … we’re going to have to really protect it. It’s our only safety net,” Weston said.

Supervisors vowed to keep local libraries open for the growing number of people who depend on the free services.

Last month, County Librarian Mary Ann Trygg proposed closing the two library branches in an effort to save $140,000 and preserve the larger, more heavily used libraries.

Sales tax revenue funneled by a voter-approved measure provides 70 percent of the library’s funding, and revenue is down 8 percent from last year.

Residents at Tuesday’s budget hearing offered solutions to the proposed closures.

Board members from the Nevada Joint Union High School Board of Trustees volunteered to help shave $6,000 in overhead expenses for the Bear River Station, a small branch that serves the schools and communities in and around Lake of the Pines in southern Nevada County.

Leaders of the Nevada County Historical Society offered to take over the lease of the Doris Foley research library, which draws visitors from around the world, and combine its operation with their Searls Library using volunteer labor. Both are in Nevada City.

Trygg outlined two proposals of her own that could keep the libraries open at least one day a week at a cost of $29,000. That sum would come out of the library’s dwindling fund balance.

“The pain is coming at some point. That’s the problem,” Trygg said.

County supervisors directed Trygg to come up with a creative plan to keep the libraries open and the County Executive Office, headed by Rick Haffey, to create a model for long-term management of the libraries before a final budget is adopted on June 16.

Following $375,000 in cuts to the public transit system and the closure of a teen health clinic in Nevada City, the library woes are another example of the fallout from the recession and voters’ rejection May 19 of measures to staunch the state’s financial hemorrhage ” a rejection widely seen as a sign of voter fury over state legislators’ inability to produce balanced budgets over the past several years.

During October and December of 2008, the county’s allocation of sales and property tax revenues in the unincorporated areas was 16 percent lower than the same time the year before.

Almost half of the total quarterly loss was due to a construction industry slowdown, according to new data released by the county.

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