YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :

Woodland Public Library patrons will abruptly discover this month, that the city budget crisis is beginning to affect basic and extensive library services, long enjoyed by this community.

Gazing over the looming city budget chasm, the library’s board members are even beginning to voice plans for creating a special library district, with elected leadership and taxation authority, in order to best stabilize and properly support its key community function.

Alluding to the possibility of such a political effort, the library is approaching a “fork-in-the-road” over the upcoming budget described Sandra Briggs, its director. She has long insisted that the key social importance of library services must be perceived as substantially equal to that of traditional public safety.

Meanwhile… Woodland’s city manager, Mark Deven, is scrambling to discover and evaluate imaginative mitigation of the worsening city budget crisis. Several new ideas were announced by him before the library board at its regular meeting of April 20.

___  CITY BUDGET OPTIONS PRESENTED  ___

Deven responded to questions and comments from about 25 persons (including library board and staff members) gathered at the Leake Room to receive his critical, budgetary status report.

Apparently, at least three approaches to mitigate the worsening fiscal crisis are being considered by city staff.

1) The city has offered attractive early retirement packages to staff members in an attempt to avoid deliberate layoffs. Results of this approach to trimming expenses will be available in May.

2) An imaginative approach to shifting resources within the city’s control is being investigated. Enterprise account funds cannot be used to offset a deficit in the general fund, however, the water enterprise fund is being considered for purchasing a portion of available city land (about 250 acres, in total) to be used for expanding the municipal system of wells. Woodland’s water source is entirely based on wells to the underground aquifer. Shifting money in this manner would increase the general fund.

3) Reserve expenditure is the third potential avenue of fiscal relief. Deven related, in response to questions, that the city reserve fund is presently about $5 million ($700,000 of reserves were already used to help balance the city’s current budget).

Deven reiterated his belief that this (size and character of) city must always maintain 10 to 15% of the overall, annual budget in reserve – purportedly to be used in some unanticipated catastrophe. He explained that spending its reserves to any significant extent, to help balance the budget, would drop Woodland below such a level of fiscal prudence.

Several in the crowd expressed views that the current city budget crisis – partially resulting from adverse, general economic conditions – is precisely the nature of unanticipated catastrophe that the reserve fund is intended to address and mitigate.

___  DEVEN FIELDS QUESTIONS  ___

One audience member inquired if the City Parks and Recreation Department has an analogue to the Friends of the Woodland Public Library, which serves to support various library functions.

This topic arose from Deven’s explanation of other potential budget cuts, which included a $200,000 cost for “youth programs” in the department. In response to the inquiry, Deven said that a relevant foundation existed but he was unaware of its activities.

Another question to Deven involved expenses related to the new Woodland Community and Senior Center. He explained that some features of the center were already in a use-moratorium (the fitness and exercise facilities). He also said that a complete shuttering or mothballing of this facility would save the city about $1 million per year.

A brief discussion followed in response to questions about more specific budget-balancing approaches to the center, since several activities and budget-cutting opportunities exist there. Deven indicated that the city council has yet to direct his attention there.

Deven volunteered, in an effort to properly describe details of budget negotiations, that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which he excised from last year’s budget – only to have it replaced by the city council – is expected to finally be eliminated. This will free-up the related officer salary of about $152,000 to be annually applied to concrete public safety purposes.

___  LIBRARY STRUGGLES WITH STAFFING CRISIS  ___

Directed by Sandra Briggs, the library has for several months been striving to operate at regular service levels burdened by a roughly 30% staff reduction. The reduction is due to attrition under the city hiring freeze as the library lost two of its most senior librarians through planned retirements.

“Stresses on staffing,” noted a library board member, compelled a special meeting eight days after their regular meeting.

“We have problems right now, not July,” said Briggs, alluding to a swift approach to budget negotiations for next fiscal year.

Recent city budget proposals call for a drastic 38% reduction of library funding and a more than 50% decrease in its operating hours (from 54 to
20-25).

Also at the April 20 meeting, some library staff and board members voiced their strong belief that the library would simply not be able to properly function under such terms (cutting $450,000 from its current funding of $1.39 million).

“We have $400,000 just in fixed [annual] costs,” explained a board member after Deven provided a status report.

Briggs has requested a budget of $1.13 million, an 18.5% cut for next fiscal year, based on reducing operating hours
to 36-40 from the current 54.

Funding calamities have arrived at a time of rapidly accelerating library use. Circulation has roughly doubled since 2005-06/ Fortunately, new self-service capabilities are helping to contain staff work arising from this burgeoning circulation and an impending program of pre-processed acquisitions will streamline some library operations.

However, such well-planned improvements – within current fiscal circumstances – are only slightly mitigating the library’s predicament.

Woodland City Council will take up these matters at a special budgetary meeting scheduled for May 26 at the Community and Senior Center – its purpose to elicit public testimony and to discuss the overall municipal situation, ahead of its eventual adoption of a new budget.

___  LIBRARY BOARD CLOSES LEAKE CENTER  ___

The library’s Leake Center, one of Woodland’s foremost public meeting facilities, closed its doors on May 1 – only to be used by the library for programs within its “primary, core mission.” This was decided by the library board at its special meeting on April 28.

Since the Leake Center is booked for much of the next three months (according to one employee), the board adopted a supplementary motion directing staff to begin immediate cancela-tions of all reservations.

“It’s not within the library’s core mission to provide public meeting space,” noted Briggs. She said a large amount of staff time is devoted to the Leake Center’s operation.

“We’ll lock the whole wing, including several associated conference rooms, and then self-clean it when it’s used for core library purposes,” she described.

The Leake Center uses about 35% of a full-time employee function, or about $14,000 annually, in addition to various other expenses.

___  BOARD SLASHES OTHER SERVICES  ___

Computer access time at the library has been slashed by a third (by 18 hours per week), consistent with the present staffing shortages. This was also decided by the board – after an extended discussion with the five staff members – at its special meeting on April 28.

Computer access requires considerable staff time, staff intervention and mediation as a component of the library media desk explained Briggs. She believes that reducing access to 36 hours per week will provide needed flexibility for overall staffing demands due to the current staffing shortage.

Briggs also determined a mix of hours for daily computer access in an attempt to partially meet the interests of library users. The new schedule is: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2 to 8 pm; and Monday, Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm; closed Sunday.

The county social services facility (the large building with clock tower on the corner of Beamer and Cottonwood Streets) has about 47 computers which are available for use by the public said a staff-member. During the meeting it was expressed that such a resource might lessen the impacts of the reduced computer access at the library.

Also at the April 28 meeting, the library board adopted a series of other motions, each one excising – or hugely reducing (as of May 1) – several other major, existing service programs, including: Proctoring, genealogical assistance, new book holds for ordering patrons, and both general and summer-reading programs for children and adults.

According to library staff, the Woodland Library is the only one in this region that performs several of these services.

Proctoring (authoritative supervision of test-taking) services – free to city residents and provided at nominal charge ($20) to the general public (often out-of-county) – cost $375 at Adult Education. It will be eliminated.
Adult humanities programing will be eliminated.

Obituary research services for genealogical purposes by library staff will also be eliminated, leaving interested persons to resort to assistance from the Daily Democrat and county archives.

___  READING PROGRAMS TRIMMED, COMPRESSED  ___

The Summer Reading program for children will be shortened from six weeks to four weeks, with its registration beginning June 8 and the program commencing on June 15.

This program had a dramatic rise in participation last year due to diligent outreach by library staff. Such outreach efforts will be abbreviated this season, although all schoolchildren in the city will receive a flyer about this program.

At the special board meeting, board and staff discussed appealing to the Friends of Woodland Public Library – a pivotal support group within the community – to increase its help in funding various awards for program participants. Such help would reduce staff hours, increasingly both scarce and valuable.

The Summer Reading program for adults had almost a hundred participants last year, doubling the previous year’s turnout. Participant awards included a $150 gift certificate to Morrison’s Restaurant.

Staff members expressed earnest concern that suddenly eliminating this core program would substantially depress future participation, a worry echoed by the board, which preserved it at half the previous staff level.

Key programs for introducing children to the library will be slashed by a third. Reading programs for teenagers will be conducted exclusively online.

“The kid’s book club has a very loyal following, with enthusiastic members, many of whom have never before been to a library. It’s remarkable to see the changes in these young readers,” said a staff-member.

Both board and staff members acknowledged that hacking-up these programs will have inevitable consequences for local cultural health. One director noted that diminished library services might result in increases of other, often much less constructive, public or social services.

“The reality is that we will not be able to do what we’ve done in the past,” exclaimed Briggs at the  conclusion of the board’s special meeting.

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