Nevada County: Solutions for libraries sought beyond outsourcing
Sun News Service
NEVADA COUNTY and#8212; As administrators and a special committee consider a proposal to turn operations of the financially strapped county library system over to a private company, head librarian Mary Ann Trygg is continuing her efforts to balance the budget and keep the libraries under county control.
Faced with a $400,000 budget shortfall (the expense budget is $2.4 million, but revenues are expected at an estimated $2 million), Trygg last month proposed cutting two positions and closing the Bear River Branch and the Doris Foley Historical Library.
Her proposal was put on hold while the Board of Supervisors worked with a special committee to review all options.
Trygg now is working on another budget proposal that calls for not filling four positions that have been vacated since the library budget was approved in June. Not filling those positions, she said, will save $250,000 for the current 2009-10 fiscal year.
Cutting the literacy program and reshaping an accountant’s position could add another $103,000 to those savings, Trygg said.
An estimated $1.5 million of the $2.4 million library system’s operating cost is payroll, according to county figures.
and#8220;I’m not through looking at all the cuts we could make,and#8221; Trygg said. and#8220;We’re looking at everything.and#8221;
Collective bargaining agreements make salary cuts impossible, at least for this fiscal year.
Library advocates and#8212; led by former county librarian Madelyn Helling and#8212; have expressed opposition to outsourcing management of library operations.
County administrators and elected officials say those concerns are premature.
and#8220;There are a lot of balls in the air right now, and people are jumping to conclusions,and#8221; said Supervisor Nate Beason, who represents Nevada City. and#8220;People are making the outsourcing the center point of this, and it isn’t. I have no predisposition to any alternative.and#8221;
Beason doesn’t expect supervisors to decide until January, after the committee has made its recommendations.
Supervisor Hank Weston of the far western county said bargaining agreements make it difficult to address the shortfall through salary cuts or reduced work hours.
and#8220;If we even propose it, the union can say it’s an unfair labor practice,and#8221; Weston said. and#8220;I want to look at all options before we make any decision. We don’t have the whole picture.and#8221;
Truckee-area Supervisor Ted Owens, who announced earlier this month that he would rung for county assessor, said he would have to review the proposals before offering an opinion.
and#8220;It has to come down to a combination of things; cost and maintaining services to the public,and#8221; Owens said. and#8220;The current model isn’t working.and#8221;
Owens understands the public concerns with outsourcing public libraries to a private company, he said.
and#8220;It will be very challenging to see if we contract for services,and#8221; Owens said. and#8220;Will it result in the ability to keep the libraries open and the taxpayers to save money? It will be a tough decision to make, because it gets down to why (the libraries) exist. Is it for the general public, or as an employment model?and#8221;
Supervisor John Spencer, representing Grass Valley, said he, too, is waiting to collect all the information before weighing in.
and#8220;I’m in the data gathering stage,and#8221; Spencer said. and#8220;I’ve asked the library people to come up with ideas. Maybe someone will come up with a good one.and#8221;
Supervisor Ed Scofield said he is not likely to support any proposal to shut down the Bear River branch, which serves his southern district.
and#8220;I want to look at all the options, and that includes outsourcing,and#8221; Scofield said. and#8220;There are a lot of people who are against outsourcing.and#8221;
The Friends of Nevada County Libraries is conducting a poll to test the appetite for a sales tax increase to help close the budget gap.
Previous efforts to pass a special library tax have been successful, likely boosted by the 67,000 library card holders in Nevada County.
In 1998, voters passed Measure B, which created a one-eighth-cent sales tax hike to support the libraries.
In 2002, more than 70 percent of voters approved Measure C, which extended that tax to 2018. That tax, according to the county, generates between $1.4 million and $1.8 million per year, depending on the economy, though sales taxes have been declining the past two years.
and#8220;A sales tax increase would pass, which would solve the problems,and#8221; Helling said.
Although the member of the Friends of the Libraries said last week that the group is polling to see whether the tax could go from one-eighth to one-quarter of a cent, Helling believes voters would go even higher.
and#8220;I think the public would accept bringing the current sales tax to a penny,and#8221; Helling said.