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Santa Barbara Council Delays Proposed Changes to Library Budget and Funding Model

A wave of elected officials and Goleta residents said the disproportionate effect on the Goleta Library would be devastating

Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte speaks Monday before the Santa Barbara City Council and a packed room about Santa Barbara’s proposed changes to the library budget. Click to view larger
Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte speaks Monday before the Santa Barbara City Council and a packed room about Santa Barbara’s proposed changes to the library budget. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Contentious changes to the Santa Barbara library system’s budget and funding model were placed on hold Monday after numerous library goers and elected officials turned out to the City Council’s library budget workshop to protest changes they say would be devastating to five libraries.

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.

No fewer than two county supervisors, two mayors, two Goleta councilmen and current and former librarians asked those on the dais to take a step back from the budgetary proposals.

The city currently levies a 9-percent administrative fee on the five libraries outside its borders to manage them.

The Library Department has proposed doubling the fee to 18 percent for next fiscal year to recoup more of those costs — a jump those libraries and many of their patrons say is too burdensome and would hit them much too quickly.

A few City Council members floated the idea of smoothing the increase over a few years, but ultimately decided to punt the decision to a June 12 hearing, asking city budget staff to return with information on the effects a smoothing would have on the city’s own libraries and where in the overall city budget more money could be trimmed to handle it.

The direct costs the city incurs to manage those libraries is $557,000, according to Library Director Jessica Cadiente.

At a 9-percent administrative fee, Santa Barbara is still subsidizing $337,000 of that, she said. At 18 percent, it would drop to $123,000.

“The city of Santa Barbara has subsidized the other libraries for millions of dollars over the past 10 years,” said Milt Hess, a member of the Santa Barbara Library Board. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think we’re viewed as the rich uncle in the county, and everybody’s been perfectly happy to have us subsidize their library budgets.”

First District County Supervisor Das Williams argued it was normal for the operating entity to contribute more than the constituent governments in arrangements for non-mandated services that offer community benefits.

“We know we bear the burden on some services,” he said of county government. “We ask you to bear the burden on this one, and to ask us what we need to do, because I do think the county needs to step up more, other partnering cities need to step up more, and we all need to work together to preserve our libraries.”

The library is also proposing a new funding-allocation model that would redistribute the portion of county government’s per-capita contribution that represents unincorporated residents.

The new formula would allocate 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 proposal 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.

Goleta residents, their city officials and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who represents much of Goleta, balked at the new formula, arguing that the Goleta branch serves many more unincorporated residents than the formula gives it credit for, including everyone west of the city limit over to Santa Barbara’s boundary.

Many Goleta Valley residents pay a special voter-approved tax that goes directly to the Goleta branch.

“People like me who live in the unincorporated Goleta Valley and are paying our $23 per year should not have their county funding reallocated to a library branch three over from where they live,” said Susan Epstein, a Goleta Union School District board trustee.

“I cannot accept the desire to preemptively undermine another local government’s plans, or to ease the impact of a fee increase for one community while punishing another,” Wolf told the council.

The City Council noted that city budget writers were “agnostic” about the formula, and sided with a bevy of speakers during public comment asking to hold off on any change to the allocation model until a professional consultant the county is planning to hire reports back to the Board of Supervisors with funding-model recommendations.

Potentially complicating the matter is Goleta’s interest in taking over and administering the library at 500 N. Fairview Ave.

Earlier this year, city officials took the first official step in exploring the possibility.

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

Monday’s hearing marked the fourth of eight City Hall work sessions as the City Council combs through and finalizes its proposed $351 million budget before the 2018 fiscal year begins on July 1.

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.

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