Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 9:53 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 55º


Margaret Connell: Goleta Library a Community Resource Worth Protecting

Further cuts to services and hours are inevitable without additional funding

One of the busiest places in Goleta is the library at 500 N. Fairview Ave. While owned by the City of Goleta, it is operated under contract by the City of Santa Barbara as part of the Santa Barbara Public Library System, which also includes the Santa Barbara Central Library and the Eastside, Montecito, Carpinteria and Solvang branches.

Our library serves Goleta, the East Goleta Valley and Isla Vista, and its annual circulation of 566,530 books and other materials rivals that of the downtown library. We are clearly a community of readers!

Besides books, people can check out CDs, DVDs, books-on-tape and, more recently, e-books. Computers are in constant use for research, job searches and, let’s be honest, even video games.

The children’s programs are exceptional and the summer reading program, with the help of some funding from the Friends of the Goleta Valley Library, has the highest enrollment of any in the system. During the year, there is story time for pre-schoolers twice a week. Some days there are special dog visitors. The PAWS to READ program helps young children gain confidence by reading books to dogs that are trained to sit quietly and listen. The library is also a safe place where children can gather after school to do homework and visit with friends — provided they are quiet, of course.

Unfortunately, the library has not escaped the impact of the economic downturn, and there have been cutbacks both in hours and the purchase of books and materials. It now closes at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and is not open on Monday mornings.

However, unlike other libraries in the system, the Goleta library is open on Monday afternoons, thanks to a very generous donation this year of $38,300 from the Friends of the Goleta Valley Library. This wonderful group raises $60,000 a year through the sale of pre-read books donated by the public. This is a major commitment, and Goletans can be very grateful for their efforts.

Library funds come from multiple sources — state, county, a local parcel tax covering the city and the Goleta Valley, fines (which will be going up this year) and rental of community meeting rooms. At this time, the only source that is certain is the parcel tax, which amounts to about $400,240 for the coming year. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposes to cut all state library funding; the county, while still in budget negotiations, is proposing library funding of $5.87 per person. This would generate about $500,000 for the Goleta Library.

Rents and fines can be counted on for about $128,000. Total revenues, with the Friends contribution, are estimated to be around $1,197,487, but with the state budget unresolved and the county still in pretty dire straits, this is not a firm figure.

The cost of running the library is estimated at $1,239,919 for the coming year. This includes $80,000 for books and materials, far below what is recommended for a population of this size. This leaves a gap of $30,000 to $40,000. Not covered in this estimate are funds for building maintenance and improvements that are the responsibility of the City of Goleta.

Options for closing the gap include:

» Further reduction in hours

» Use of reserves — not a desirable way to go to meet ongoing expenses

» Exploration of the possibility of asking the voters in County Service Area 3, which covers the whole Goleta Valley, for an increase in the parcel tax — now about $20 per parcel. This would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass, unlike the initial tax, which needed only a simple majority.

Do Goletans value their library enough to consider such a measure? I believe that people want to maintain services at least at the current level and would regret any further reduction in hours. It would be a real disappointment to plan a visit to the library and then find the doors closed. If the economy improves over the next year or two, perhaps it won’t be necessary to seek additional revenues. But a public library is too important to be dependent on the generosity of a group such as the Friends of the Goleta Valley Library to maintain service levels.

If you want to keep our library open every day, and believe that this is a critical public service — not a luxury — let your legislators in Sacramento, on the county Board of Supervisors and at the City of Goleta hear from you now while budget decisions are still being made. They do listen!

Margaret Connell is serving her second term as mayor of Goleta.

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