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City, county libraries may see budget cuts because of $34.8 billion state deficit

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2003 10:00 pm

Cuts to library materials, resources and hours across San Joaquin and Sacramento counties are likely on the horizon because of anticipated slashes in state funding.

In fact, libraries across the country are cutting staff and services because of a nationwide budget crunch. And one of the most disturbing things, librarians said, is that the cutbacks are occurring at a time when an increasing number of people need libraries to help them find jobs.

Seattle's libraries were forced to close for two weeks. Denver doubled its late fees. And Sunday book browsing is out in Erie, Pa.

Harrison Husting, 7, gets help choosing books from his mother, Caroline, at the Lodi Public Library on Thursday. (Chris Lang/News-Sentinel)

Lodi fears it isn't far behind.

Because of California's $34.8 billion budget deficit, local library officials are bracing for potential cuts and are worried they could lose state grants that help fund everyday operations.

Planners, who have been reluctant to guess what could be cut locally, should know more today following Gov. Gray Davis' proposals to deal with the budget deficit.

With about 40 percent of San Joaquin County's annual $773.3 million budget coming from the state, county officials may also look to trim its library services in the coming months.

There are 10 branches within the system, with locations from Tracy to Thornton.

The Stockton-San Joaquin County public libraries also sponsor the bookmobile, a van that takes reading material to farming areas including migrant camps.

In Sacramento County, seven library branches had their hours cut a combined 17 hours, but the Marian O. Lawrence Library in Galt was spared.

The Galt branch on Caroline Avenue is open 35 hours per week from Tuesday to Saturday.

In fiscal year 2001-02, the Stockton-San Joaquin County public libraries served 214,370 active borrowers.

It received $3.6 million from the county, $5 million from Stockton, $840,669 from the state and $30,000 in federal revenue, according to the latest annual report. Approximately $550,000 came from private donations, fines and fees.

"The thing we're looking at right now is we know there will be a reduction is state-provided money. We will take that out of our materials budget," said Nicky Stanke, director of the library services for the county, adding that she is worried about potential cuts but can't be certain what programs will get the ax.

"One thing we are fairly sure of is we won't get new CDs, books or tapes for our collection. We don't know the depths of the cut, yet, so we don't speculate much further than that."

In fiscal 2001-02, the library added 80,000 volumes, which includes everything from books to books on tape.

The impact could be greater if the amount of money cities in the system contribute is reduced. Cities supplement the system by paying for collections in each of their branches and cost of hours of operation.

Lodi Deputy City Manager Janet Keeter said city officials, too, are bracing for potential cuts but have not discussed any particulars.

"We haven't speculated on any budget cuts for any budget departments," she said. "At this time, we are in a holding pattern until the governor releases his plans."

Last week, the City Council voted down a $125,000 plan that would allow Lodi Library staff to partner with Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library for an integrated library system.

(If adopted, the plan would have allowed patrons to browse the card catalog online, and even read some full-text books now available through the library.)

Before Lodi Head Librarian Nancy Martinez takes any budget request before the council, she has to have it approved by the library Board of Trustees.

As city budget policy, the library receives 20 percent of collected property taxes. The remaining amount of the library's $1.2 million budget comes from fines and fees, and state grants which have already been reduced for the 2002-03 fiscal year, Martinez said.

"So the expectation is it will receive another cut," she said. "That money is supposed to supply every public library with 10 percent of their operating expenses, but it's never been fully funded."

At a $61,000 annual cost, the council last April approved opening the library for four hours every Sunday, a first for Lodi.

Despite the pending state deficit, Martinez said she is not expecting to reduce staff or operation hours.

"I'm not looking at anything, at this point," she said.

In Sacramento County, the Carmichael Library has the largest circulation among libraries in unincorporated communities. It also is one of seven Sacramento Public Library branches in which hours were reduced last week, leaving some patrons scrambling to find an open branch. County officials are concerned about further cuts.

Branches in Galt, Isleton, Walnut Grove and Courtland were spared reductions in hours because they already are open fewer hours, said Don Burns, a spokesman from the Sacramento Public Library system.

"The libraries get a great deal of usage on weekends, so we didn't cut on weekends," Burns said.

Last year, the seven affected libraries were open 263 hours per week. This year, they will be open 246 hours - a reduction of 17 hours weekly.

The new hours are based on reductions in the transient occupancy tax, or hotel tax, allocated by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors for library service and many other county projects.

Last year, the board used $500,000 in the tax revenue to add 61 hours weekly among Sacramento County's 13 libraries in unincorporated areas. The allocation for additional open hours this year is just $172,000. Libraries competed for the money with a large number of arts programs and other interests.

During the 2000-01 budget year, unincorporated Sacramento County collected $8.6 million in transient occupancy taxes, while the following budget year it collected $8.3 million. The projection for 2002-03 is $8.2 million.

"We're re-examining our budget as we speak," Burns said.

News-Sentinel staff writer Ross Farrow and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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