The Board of Supervisors will consider library funding during its budget discussions this month. Almost all departments are facing significant cuts. Once again, the proposed library funding is inadequate and will probably cause a reduction in services.
In recent weeks, county officials and the public became aware of the very complicated formula for distributing the county per-capita funding. This discussion occurred after a proposed budget for District 1 took substantial historic funding away from the popular Goleta branch.
According to this proposed budget, the Goleta branch would have lost approximately $200,000 in county support, with that money going to other branches in District 1. Fortunately, the board majority voted to keep the historic funding mechanism in place for now and to hire a consultant to study possible alternative organizational structures to assure a fair distribution of the funding.
Here are some suggestions for that consultant that might result in a more equitable disbursement of the meager funds that go to our libraries:
Put small libraries in the unincorporated areas under one county office. Small libraries such as Vandenberg Village, Montecito, Los Alamos and Cuyama have only one layer of funding, which is the county per-capita of approximately $7.80. If the smaller branches could have some autonomy, perhaps they could operate with more efficiency and be able to use volunteers to supplement staff hours.
Libraries within city boundaries get the county per-capita, plus they get an additional layer of funding from city coffers. Goleta unincorporated residents voted to tax themselves for a third layer of funding for their Goleta branch. These larger libraries could continue with their own library directors and oversight by an appropriate city department.
There are three districts in the county. Each district gets its per-capita and the distribution is determined by the library director of the main branch — Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria.
In the case of the Village library, a few years back volunteers discovered a significant percentage of per-capita had been kept for the city library rather than budgeted to the unincorporated branch. Library administrators argued that many people who live outside city limits used the main branch library, and the city branch deserved to keep that funding to pay for this service.
However, this cross usage occurs throughout the county system. Many taxpayers, such as myself, use several of the branch libraries, regardless of where they live or where they obtained their library card.
If the consultant studies the district configuration, the boundaries might better follow supervisorial district boundary lines. Also, they could use precinct-voting boundaries to determine per-capita allotment and insist that money not be transferred to a library outside that boundary.
From listening to the recent board discussion, it became obvious some supervisors had done their homework and understood how the funding was distributed. However, the 4th District supervisor abstained, at one point saying it was all too complicated.
Yes, it is complex, but hopefully all supervisors will work with library staff to learn how the money is distributed. It is the job of our decision makers to read staff reports, ask the important questions, contribute to the discussion, and come up with a solution.
The per-capita of $7.80 puts Santa Barbara County near the bottom of all California counties for library support. For a county that is home to a major university and some of the most expensive properties in the state, it is an embarrassment to be ranked down with some of the poorest counties. Studies show communities that support a vibrant library system enhance the quality of life for residents.
Go online to read the proposed county budget. Please contact the supervisors to let them know you value your local library, and you support both adequate funding and a fair distribution of this funding.
Marell Brooks lives in Vandenberg Village. Forward View is a progressive look at issues. For information please call 736-1897.
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