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Goleta Library Finds Funding Uncertainty Among the Shelves

Officials say no budget decisions have been made but patrons and employees fret over future

While the Goleta Valley Branch Public Library faces a challenge balancing its budget in the face of a growing deficit, both the city of Goleta and library officials are eager to emphasize that no budget decisions have yet been made.

“We only kicked off our own budget process,” said Irene Macias, director at the Santa Barbara Public Library System, which contracts with Goleta to provide services at the community’s only public library. Part of her job is to help assess the needs of the Goleta library, 500 N. Fairview Ave., and work out a budget that includes state, county and local funds.

There has been anxiety in the library’s ranks and among its patrons from talk that Goleta was considering cuts to the library’s hours of operation, in an effort to save money. Added to that stress was the seeming reticence of upper management to discuss matters with branch employees.

“They feel that both the public and the library staff — professionals in their business — are being left out of negotiations concerning the running of the Goleta Library,” longtime library visitor Donna Sweet said in an e-mail to Noozhawk last week.

The anxiety is understandable, said Macias.

“I think when somebody mentions the possibility of reducing services, people really do love the library so they react pretty strongly,” she said.

Since August, for instance, the Santa Barbara Library has had to cut its hours to save money. It also has reduced its budget for new book purchases.

But according to Macias, the reticence about the Goleta library is a result of a lack of information, not closed-door dealings between the library system and the city.

Cash-strapped Santa Barbara County has indicated it will continue contributing at its regular per-capita rate — something in the neighborhood of $500,000 — for the fiscal year that begins July 1, she said. The state of California has been contributing around $35,800, plus any one-time grants available. The Friends of the Library organization has been instrumental in raising money, and last year the city of Goleta kicked in $184,000.

But Goleta’s next budget remains unknown, said Macias, who plans to propose a “status quo” budget that retains the same services and operating hours. But it’s not quite possible to tell what kind of actions will ultimately have to be taken, she said.

“We don’t have a number for next year yet because (Goleta) is still trying to figure out what their revenue is,” she said.

According to City Manager Dan Singer, budget talks for the next fiscal year won’t happen until around late March or early April. Goleta is still in the middle of its 2008-09 midyear budget assessments.

Goleta does face a downturn in its budget, and the library has for years had an ongoing deficit that will need to be addressed, Singer said.

“It is true that from a revenue vs. expenses standpoint, this has been a predicted problem,” he said. “We just can’t keep backfilling.”

Among the options that have yet to be brought to the city council are cost-cutting measures that would, ideally, retain the level of service the library offers. The facility is the Goleta Valley’s only public library and its parking lot is filled to capacity during the week, with patrons overflowing to nearby parking areas.

To save money, the city might decide to cut out its bookmobile services. Or it might even consider privatization.

“It’s going to come down to numbers,” Singer said. If privatization could keep the library open at the same hours at a significant cost savings without cutting back on services, it is an option that could be considered.

“I would have the responsibility to bring it to the decisionmakers,” Singer said.

As for cutting hours, he said, it would depend on the level of service the library provides the community.

“If they say ‘On Saturdays and Sundays the first hour it’s open it’s just absolutely dead,’ then I would expect that (the library) could close those hours, save X number of dollars a year and still provide the same level of service,” Singer said.

Another option would be to increase the library parcel tax assessed on the community to generate more revenue. Goleta residents pay roughly $20 in property tax per year to support the library.

The bottom line, said Singer, library employees and the public would have to know about the situation before any action could be taken.

“We’re going to need input from the community. We’re going to need input from the Friends of the Library,” he said.

Goleta’s Finance Committee will take up library funding in February and the budget will be addressed again in late March or early April at a city workshop. Both meetings are open to the public. Click here to check specific dates and times.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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