Woodland Public Library’s Director, Sandra Briggs, at its regular Board of Trustees Meeting of January 7, has suddenly announced her pending retirement (effective April 30) through the ongoing municipal budget-cutting program of Golden Handshakes.

Briggs indicates that increasingly deteriorating budgetary circumstances for the Library is her major motivation.

“Maybe I can’t stop further cuts to the Library’s budget,” Briggs exclaimed, “but I don’t have to be a part of it. And I believe that’s an important distinction.” She relates that closed-session discussions regarding this subject with Library Trustees have occurred for several months.

The — “Future of the Library” — was the urgent topic of a Special Study Session With Staff, which its Trustees suddenly convened on January 11.

___  Library Short-Changed — Special District Campaign Ensues  ___

Its Board of Trustees: “believe[s] that the [City of Woodland] has been short-changing the [Woodland Public] Library for many years,” far before the recent and pervasive economic turmoil.

Trustees allege a long history, a half-dozen years at least, of disturbing fiscal difficulties with various municipal authorities — regarding library funding and operations — as predicating their considered intention to immediately pursue formation of a new: Woodland Public Library Special District.

“At this point, I’ve seen enough to believe that we shouldn’t even try — ‘Not to make the city mad’” — by continuing to — “Go along and get along” — with these chronic municipal funding and policy problems, declares another Library Trustee, with yet another adding that such a view is certainly shared.

Briggs explains that between 800 and 1000 patrons per day visit Woodland’s library, and she challenges any local civic institution or agency to match such community value and resource. “The library has a $5 million collection accessible to all of these patrons — which must be sustained.”

Even just a few years of relaxation regarding materials acquisition will severely affect this collection (as just one example of library operations), relates Briggs, who wonders when the city leadership will properly recognize the relevantly profound public and cultural interest associated with diverse library programs.

____  One More Meeting With Mayor  ____

A last-ditch, closed meeting with two City Council members (likely Mayor and Vice-mayor) on January 12 was clearly not expected to alter this long-cultured intention of the Board of Trustees.

“We’ll find out exactly what their plans are,” describes a Trustee about this meeting, “but we don’t believe they’ll provide any real information or any reason to alter our determination,” to soon forge a broadly public — petition campaign — supportive of creating an independent, self-funded special district.

Legal formation of such a special district involves a particular political and bureaucratic process, which the Library Trustees and Director have been investigating — with the knowledge of the City Council — for about a year.

____  Woodland Public Library Special District  ____

Autonomy for Woodland Public Library is fiscally based upon severing a certain portion of property-tax revenue from the City of Woodland and re-allocating it to a Woodland Public Library Special District.

In basic, somewhere near the amount of tax revenue the city presently receives and expends on library services — would instead be provided directly to the library, which could also act to place independent, supplementary funding requests before voters.

The precise amount of this tax re-allocation is currently unknown, but it would be in the general range of recent municipal budget allocations ($1.38 million in previous year, $1.14 million in current year).

Library Trustees are researching the scope of legal latitude that exists within the formalized explication of such an allocation, intending to maximize it.

___  LAFCO  ___

Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), with rotating membership of local cities and the county, is the venue / panel legally assigned to process such an application for special district status.

Consideration of such an application by LAFCO may be initiated by a majority vote of the Woodland City Council or by receipt of a petition signed by 5% of local voters casting ballots at the last gubernatorial election.

5% of such voters amounts to — 796 signatures — being required in order to formally submit this application to LAFCO — absent City Council approval.

The Library Board of Trustees, however, doesn’t believe that presenting this — minimum — number of petition signatures to LAFCO will be politically effective for ensuring its appropriate action.

Thus, they’re proposing a political campaign — coinciding with the upcoming City Council election — to collect at least 8,000 signatures of registered voters.

Trustees believe that placing this — majority — of such registered voters by signature before LAFCO will demonstrate genuine political credibility and compel commensurate action for approval of a Woodland Public Library Special District.

This belief is well founded — since upon any LAFCO approval — the public recourse is to present by petition a majority of registered voters opposed to such a special district.

Library Trustees are proposing precisely that course and product – in support — as a key element for persuading LAFCO of the political imperative of granting this application and creating a new: Woodland Public Library Special District.

___  Staff Discussion of Issues  ___

A Library Trustee asked whether there was in reality — inadequate political importance attaching to library patronage — while staff members were concerned that both council familiarity with library operations as well as its due political influence were lacking.

Another Library Trustee responded that about the only time any City Council members show up at the library is for its annual “Mystery Night.”

Several staff members recounted (without specifics) a recent, troubling incident of a senior city staff member “loudly” demonstrating a disparaging attitude toward many library patrons.

Another staff member was concerned about perceived attitudes of Woodland City Manager, Mark Deven, toward the library. Reportedly, Deven’s preferred budgetary option is combining library and recreation facets of municipal operations, which would dissolve authority of Library Trustees and dramatically reduce its policy and service profile.

Briggs notes that “a combination of the most vulnerable [municipal departments] rarely strengthens either.”

___  Options Arising From Budget Cuts  ___

Resulting from budget induced retirements, as well as recent planned retirements — of half of its regular staff, very significant and long-term professional employees — including Briggs, Library Trustees will soon confront the prospect of slashing Woodland Public Library operations and hours in what is considered by them to be a wholly unacceptable manner.

A year ago, library hours were 54 per week. For many months now, library hours are 40 per week. Last year’s initial budget proposal cut library hours to 20 per week – a level library advocates argued was far below that of any other regular public library in this region – and were eventually successful at resisting.

Preservation of a 40 hour per week level of library hours is obviously uncertain (yet clearly unlikely) without dramatic political action — such as approving the hiring of new lbrary staff — by the City Council.

The — “Future of the Library” — meeting has produced a prominent impression that the very identity of this community library is now at stake.

Briggs has prepared a power-point presentation of the eight possible: “Options / Alternatives,” outlined by suggested “Pros and Cons” of each approach.

Such options include: doing nothing (wait and see), mobilizing community support for minimizing further budget cuts (similar to last year’s effort), contracting with Sacramento Public Library for temporary administrative operations, or folding library operations together with parks and recreation functions into a new: Community Services Department (City Manager Mark Deven’s preferred option).

Library Trustees, however, have selected the described option of politically promulgating emergence of a special district —  to “remove [the library] from highly volatile annual funding cycles of the City,” despite “extreme political opposition” from City Council members.

* Please see prior articles by Yolo Sun about the Woodland Public Library:

Library Strives to Sustain and Improve Services Despite Impacts of City Budget Reductions

Special District Status for Woodland’s Library? Trustees Examine Process with LAFCO Staff

Library Suffers From City Budget Scrambling