Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer

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October 8, 2009
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Library faces privatization or drastic cuts, report says


The survival of Nevada County's public libraries beyond June, 2011 may require either privatization or crippling budget cuts, according to a report issued Thursday by county Executive Officer Rick Haffey.

In a report to be presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Haffey wrote that the library budget "shows the library finances going in the red to the tune of over $400,000 by June 2011 and (shortfall) increases substantially from there on out."

As a result, the county needs "a new outlook on how to deliver services," Haffey wrote. That could come with contracted operations like the one the county has with the Lovett Recovery Home for those battling addiction, he added.

Haffey was charged by the supervisors to find a solution to the library's fiscal crisis last spring. Sales tax revenues that fuel 70 percent of the library funding have been plunging for the last two years.

County Librarian Mary Ann Trygg earlier proposed closing the Doris Foley Historical Library in Nevada City and the Bear River branch to meet the growing deficit. That proposal was rejected by the board of supervisors in June following pleas by library advocates.

Haffey's report includes a new proposal from Trygg that would cut even deeper than her first proposal, slashing $403,000 from the 2010-2011 budget which starts July 1, 2010. Her proposal would cut staff and hours at the Truckee, Grass Valley and Nevada City (Madelyn Helling) libraries.

The proposal again calls for closure of the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research in Nevada City, the Penn Valley and Bear River library stations, and eliminates the literacy program. Both options would include staffing cuts.

Trygg's plan also calls for the elimination of the literacy campaign coordinator, reduces the literacy assistant and an accounting technician to half-time, and lets all temporary staff go. Four full-time positions that are now unfilled, or about to open through retirement would remain vacant.

If privatization is pursued - and some California counties have turned their libraries over to private companies to operate - a large employee base would be available from the current library workforce, Haffey said.

"I hope they would look to our employees, but certainly, it would be the contractor's choice," to hire them or not, Haffey wrote.

If the board balks at privatization, Haffey indicated he would prefer to, "accelerate the process (budget cuts), because sales tax keeps declining," he wrote.

That means Trygg's expense reduction plan would begin almost immediately, if supervisors agree.

"She's doing the best she can with the money she has, but it decimates the library system and my hope is that a contractor could maintain the current services," Haffey wrote of the option to contract library services to a private vendor.

Friends of the Nevada County Libraries President Ingrid Knox was not available for comment. Her husband, Warren, said she wanted to review Haffey's report before commenting.

Longtime county librarian Madelyn Helling - the namesake of the system's county branch - said she knew the report was coming and hopes a reasonable solution is reached.

Either way, Helling said, "The public has to care. There's something about the library that's taken for granted and it's not free. It's paid for by tax dollars."

At the same time, she said, "Public libraries protect the public's freedom to information and I think that's critical."

Supervisors are scheduled to review the proposal next Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Rood Center, 950 Maidu Ave. in Nevada City.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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The Union Updated Oct 9, 2009 01:09AM Published Oct 8, 2009 09:54PM Copyright 2009 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.