2010-06-25 / Front Page

Council serves notice to county library system

Library’s budget focus of study session
By Daniel Wolowicz

TIME TO CHECK OUT?—Camarillo Library page Nick Maffei returns books to the shelves at the local library earlier this week. The City Council voted unanimously June 23 to serve notice to the Ventura County Library system that the city library will leave the countywide consortium. City officials cited rising costs as the reason it wants local control of the public library. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers TIME TO CHECK OUT?—Camarillo Library page Nick Maffei returns books to the shelves at the local library earlier this week. The City Council voted unanimously June 23 to serve notice to the Ventura County Library system that the city library will leave the countywide consortium. City officials cited rising costs as the reason it wants local control of the public library. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers The Camarillo City Council voted unanimously June 23 to notify the Ventura County Library Commission that it wanted to move the Camarillo Library out of the countywide system.

The council’s decision to serve notice to the 15-library system came after a study session in which City Manager Jerry Bankston pointed out the ever-growing financial costs Camarillo must pay to be part of the county system.

“They either have to reduce the county budget or increase the contributions of other libraries,” Bankston said. “We understand that the latter may simply not be doable for (the other cities). We’re not so sure that the county couldn’t reduce its overall budget.”

It costs about $10.7 million a year to run the county libraries. Property taxes account for a lion’s share of revenue—about $9.9 million. Based on an agreement among the cities and the communities that are part of the county system, property taxes from each area go toward that particular city’s library.

In addition to Camarillo, the county has libraries in the cities of Ojai, Ventura, Port Hueneme, Fillmore, Camarillo and Simi Valley as well as in the unincorporated communities of El Rio, Oak Park, Meiners Oaks, Oak View, Saticoy and Piru.

Bankston said he was frustrated by the fact that Camarillo pays the largest amount of money for the county system—about $3 million.

“There is an inequity, in my opinion, because of the formula not having been changed to reflect the added circulation that the Camarillo Library has brought to the benefit of the whole system,” the city manager said.

Ventura pays about $2.5 million, while Simi Valley pays nearly $2.4 million.

Because Camarillo is contractually obligated to give the county six months’ notice before it takes control of the public library, it was important the City Council announce its intention to exit the agreement before July 1 in order to qualify by Jan. 1, 2011 for property tax revenue that would help finance the library.

Pending negotiations with the library commission, the city has the option to rescind its decision and stay with the county.

The library commission is a seven-member board made up of one representative from each of the six cities it serves and a member of the county Board of Supervisors representing libraries in the unincorporated areas. Mayor Kevin Kildee represents Camarillo.

Libraries in cities that aren’t part of the countywide system are either operated by the city, such as Thousand Oaks, or managed by a for-profit firm, as is the case in Moorpark.

Bankston said no decision has yet been made as to how Camarillo would operate its library if the city opts to move out of the county system.

State cuts and shrinking property values have put a strain on libraries. Recently, the Ventura City Council voted to shutter one of is libraries because it didn’t have the money to pay for it.

About $1.9 million of the Camarillo Library’s $3-million operating budget is paid for with property taxes. The remainder is paid for with $780,000 from the city’s general fund, $117,000 in fines and rentals and nearly $214,000 in donations.

Bankston said the amount the city finances from its general fund continues to climb, with no say from the City Council.

“With all of our services—the sheriff’s contract and the others— we’ve had budget control,” Bankston said. “We can determine one more cop car, two more police officers. There’s a cost, and we know what it’s going to be. With the library, we have no budget input. We have no budget control.”

When Camarillo built its new library in 2007, Bankston said, the city understood it was responsible for paying any additional costs associated with the building.

The city has paid about $1 million a year to cover facility costs, but Bankston said those numbers have recently gone up, and the city is paying a combined $2 million in building and operating costs.

The city manager said the hefty price tag warranted a second look by the City Council.

The decision to move away from the county library system, Bankston said, was made because the library commission has not reconsidered how costs are shared across the system. Moreover, he said, he questions the county’s budgeting practices.

Jackie Griffin, director of the Ventura County Library system, said a revision to rewrite the memorandum of agreement between the cities that have libraries requires a unanimous decision by the library commission.

“I have been saying for a long time that this places an unfair burden on Camarillo, and we needed to change it . . . but it does take a unanimous agreement between all the members and that’s a hard thing to come to in such a hard economic time, but we’ve been working on it,” Griffin said.

She said Camarillo understood that a larger library would come with additional costs.

“We didn’t impose that,” she said. “The cities imposed that upon themselves.

Mayor Kevin Kildee said he understands the state’s fiscal crisis has taken a bite out of the county library budget, but Camarillo still carries too much of a burden in financing the system.

“We’ve seen our numbers grow every year to a point now where we’re thinking, ‘Is it still beneficial to stay in the system or would it be beneficial to pull out and see if there’s some other opportunities that could be available to us?’”

It’s unclear what would happen to the other members if Camarillo left the county library system. Griffin said that although the county would lose Camarillo’s revenue, the system would be able to sustain itself.

She said Camarillo would lose the $490,000 it receives from the unincorporated areas and that sharing administrative costs—in addition to the county’s library catalogue— is beneficial to all the libraries within the county system.

“I really, really, really strongly believe in shared resources,” she said. “I believe the economies of scale are really important now in this bad economic time.”

Griffin said she’d like to reach a compromise in the coming months.

“We’re all stuck in a frustrating situation, and I certainly un- derstand the position Camarillo finds themselves in, but I really want to come to a solution and not where we’re walking away from an arrangement that is really good for everybody,” she said.

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