Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 2:52 pm | A Few Clouds 64º


Local News

Library Funding Takes Center Stage as County Supervisors Ask Santa Barbara to Slow Fee Increase

Goleta Library users also say the county's new funding formula would disproportionately hurt the institution

The City of Santa Barbara administers its Central and East branch libraries, and those in Montecito, Carpinteria, Goleta, Buellton and Solvang. The city wants to double the branches’ administrative fee for cost recovery. Click to view larger
The City of Santa Barbara administers its Central and East branch libraries, and those in Montecito, Carpinteria, Goleta, Buellton and Solvang. The city wants to double the branches’ administrative fee for cost recovery. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

As governments and funders continue to stretch the money available for libraries, the city of Santa Barbara is looking to change its funding formulas while continuing to subsidize the operations of several county libraries it administers.

The county contracts with the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc to administer its library system, and contributes $3.4 million to them all — more than half of it to those under Santa Barbara’s umbrella.

In addition to its own Central and Eastside branches, Santa Barbara administers the libraries in Goleta, Carpinteria, Solvang, Buellton and Montecito, which collectively cover 239,000 residents.

Santa Barbara has been talking for the past six months about raising the administrative fee it levies on each library, to 18 percent from 9 percent, for cost recovery.

Milt Hess, who chairs Santa Barbara’s library board, said at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting that the 18 percent is barely over half what it would take to recover all the money the city spends on the five libraries.

However, First District Supervisor Das Williams said an 18-percent fee would be debilitating for the cash-strapped libraries, and voted with Second and Third District supervisors Janet Wolf and Joan Hartmann to formally ask the city to smooth out the hike over two or three years. 

Their North County colleagues, Fourth and Fifth District supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino, abstained.

It is ultimately the Santa Barbara City Council’s decision whether and how to implement the fee increase.

The county provides cities $7.80 per capita to provide library services.

Goleta officials, residents and Wolf, who represents much of Goleta, balked at a new formula Santa Barbara has proposed to allocate the portion of the per-capita funding that represents unincorporated residents.

The plan is to distribute those funds to the Goleta, Carpinteria, Montecito, Buellton and Solvang libraries in proportion to each of the five cities’ populations, with Montecito counted as a city for this purpose.

Currently, the Goleta Valley Branch Public Library is considered the go-to library for 10 times as many unincorporated residents as any of the other four. However, the new formula would re-distribute half of the Goleta Library’s unincorporated residents — and the per-capita funds representing them — between the other four cities.

That means $195,000 less annually for that branch.

Residents in and around Goleta insist that its library services a wider area than the new formula gives it credit for.

Wolf said she was shocked when she found out about the “double-whammy” of the proposed 9-percent hike and the funding cut Goleta would receive with the new allocation formula.

“I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but it actually looked like a scheme of removing folks who were in the Goleta residency area … and moving them into the different libraries,” she said, calling the impact on the Goleta Library “incredibly significant and unfair.”

Williams disputed the fairness and accuracy of the current unincorporated-resident-based funding allocation that Wolf lobbied to maintain, arguing that it short-changed the Montecito, Carpinteria, Solvang and Buellton libraries.

He said the city of Goleta contributed “bottom of the barrel” funds to its library — something Goleta Councilman Michael Bennett disputed — and that a funding model should encourage cities to contribute more to their libraries, rather than make up for cities not “stepping up.”

Ultimately, Williams, Hartmann and Lavagnino voted to endorse a recommendation by the county’s Library Advisory Committee to help Goleta offset the fiscal shock by letting it keep half of the 24,000 unincorporated residents it stands to lose — but for only one year.

The supervisors also decided to hire a consultant to dig into the best way to allocate library funds.

Complicating the matter is Goleta’s determination to take over and administer the library at 500 N. Fairview Ave.

In February, the city took the first step by establishing the initial framework for a municipal library and creating a library board of trustees.

Should it split off, a whole new funding-allotment formula would have to be hammered out.

County starts renewal talks with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for Cachuma Project contract

The supervisors also kicked off the contract-renewal process with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to continue receiving water from Lake Cachuma.

The Bureau of Reclamation owns and operates the reservoir, which has historically been the primary source of water for the South Coast.

The county Water Agency’s 1995 contract with the bureau, which includes subcontracts for five local water agencies, expires in 2020. The bureau mandates at least two years for developing a renewal.

In addition to having been part of local agencies’ water-supply portfolios, the point of the Cachuma Project is to supply the South Coast with water for up to seven years of critical drought — a designation based on the drought conditions of 1945-52.

Despite that goal, the current drought dried up the lake much earlier than that, with no water allocations made from 2015 through this past April.

Last year, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury issued a report concluding that the project needed a new safe yield standard, which lays out how much water can be pumped out without the water source going dry.

According to county water staff, the safe yield will be lower after accounting for climate change and changes to how much water needs to be released from the reservoir to support endangered steelhead trout.

If a draft order from the State Water Resources Control Board and a new National Marine Fisheries Service opinion are enacted, more water would have to be released into streams for fish, something staff wrote would “have the potential to severely curtail available supplies for municipal uses.”

Tom Fayram, deputy director for water resources at the county Public Works Department, said the bureau has recently made official a midyear Cachuma allocation of 40 percent, effective April 1. That comes out to a little over 10,000 acre-feet.

Public Defender’s Office rehires retiree

The Public Defender’s Office is bringing back attorney Robert Ikola, who retired in March after more than 28 years with the office, as an extra-help employee. 

Like many public defender’s offices around the country, Santa Barbara County’s faces a hefty caseload. 

Ikola had at least 100 cases on his plate when he left, and is being brought back to help manage those cases and train his replacement, according to the county. 

During his tenure, Ikola also trained new attorneys and oversaw day-to-day operations.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >