Friday, May 13, 2005 | The City Council will consider a budget plan Monday afternoon that would most likely scale back services and eliminate staff positions in San Diego’s library system.
City Manager Lamont Ewell’s proposal calls for staff cutbacks, a 20-percent cut to book and materials purchases, no new computer or software purchases, and reduced library hours, an official said Thursday.
“Libraries are heavily used and they need constant upkeep and new materials to satisfy that use,” said library spokesman Arian Collins, citing the 6.5 million visitors to the system’s 34 branches.
Branches will reduce their weekly hours from 44 to 40 for the most part, Collins said, but he predicted that branch schedules would be shifted around so that the weekday and Saturday schedules would remain unchanged and that only one branch per City Council district would be open Sundays.
Proposed staff cuts include two administrators, a library development fundraiser, and 12 full-time staff members who hold jobs performing various services: cataloguing, helping patrons locate items, working in the children’s section and checking out books.
The 12 service staff cuts are expected to save the city $900,000, according to the city manager’s proposal.
The city manager’s proposed staff cuts to the library system come in the wake of a recent study showing San Diego to have the lowest full-time staff-per-book ratio, one librarian per 10,032 books, out of California’s 10 largest cities. The study, authored by the left-leaning Center on Policy Initiatives, also showed San Diego to have higher per-capita library expenditures and books-per-person ratios than the average major city in the state.
The cuts are part of an attempt to close a $50 million budget gap brought about largely by increased contributions to the city’s pension system and retiree health benefits.
In total, the $37.3 million budget is up $250,000 from last year. The biggest growth comes in fringe benefits, which were up $1.4 million over the fiscal year 2005 budget.
Another proposed personnel cut is the elimination of one of the two positions in the library system’s development office, Collins said. The position is responsible for seeking private donations, and Collins said the cut would do more harm to the system’s finances.
“No question, this position absolutely pays for itself,” he said, noting that $1.7 million in outside money was raised by the development office in 2004, more three times the amount raised before the position was created six years ago.
Only the allocations for energy, utilities and fringe benefits for staff were increased in the next year’s budget plan.
Factoring into the proposed cuts is the City Council’s decision on April 18 to waive a requirement known as the library ordinance that would allocate an additional $14 million to the $37 million penciled in for the department’s budget. Instead, the council members cited the city’s bleak financial outlook for redirecting the money to other expenditures.
San Diego County Taxpayers Association executive director Lisa Briggs said the city should better focus on its priorities so it could fund the library ordinance.
“It seems like every year since they passed the ordinance they’ve had no choice but to waive it,” Briggs said. “I look forward to the day they don’t have to waive it because I would argue that libraries are a core service for our city.”
The library ordinance, enacted in fiscal year 2002, has been waived the last two years. If the ordinance were upheld, Collins said the library would most likely be able to restore its cuts to book-buying and acquiring new technology, better maintain branch buildings, and boost its contribution to the READ San Diego literacy program for adults since the county withdrew its support last year.
The library services budget does not include money spent on facility construction, such as the proposed main library downtown, although the council will also consider a capital projects budget proposal Monday that has sets aside $69.5 million in the next fiscal year for the flagship library’s construction.
The council will consider the budget proposals for the next fiscal year at 2 p.m. on Monday at the City Administration Building, 202 C Street.
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