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San Joaquin County to consider privatizing libraries

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 5:56 am, Tue Sep 14, 2010.

Thornton’s public library, known for keeping students occupied after school in this isolated community, may become privatized under a proposal from San Joaquin County.

The rumor mill began churning through a mass e-mail from Thornton resident Marlene Corbitt to local residents during the weekend. The issue raised questions in Thornton on whether decisions would be made by a for-profit corporation in Maryland rather than in San Joaquin County.

County Supervisor Ken Vogel, whose district includes Thornton, said that the Board of Supervisors would retain control over finances, not the private company, Library Systems and Services, Inc.

“What we’re looking at is for a private company to manage the libraries,” Vogel said.

The Lodi Public Library is not involved in the proposal because it is owned by the city of Lodi and isn’t part of the Stockton-San Joaquin County system. The combined Stockton-county system has four branches in Stockton and others in Thornton, Linden, Lathrop, Manteca, Tracy, Mountain House, Ripon and Escalon.

Lockeford and Clements are served by a Bookmobile on Thursdays.

Vogel said that county officials began looking at privatization when they couldn’t get an answer from the city of Stockton on how the $5 million the county contributes is being spent.

“The city says, ‘It’s co-mingled (with Stockton funds). We can’t account for it,’” Vogel said. “The county has told the city of Stockton to please account for where this money goes.”

All cities except Stockton and Lodi, plus the unincorporated areas, are taxed for library service on their property tax bills.

Chris Freeman, who oversees the combined Stockton-county system, said he will send the county figures about how the county-generated money is used, as early as this week.

Although a decision may by the Board of Supervisors may be a few months away Vogel said his understanding is that LSSI is a capable firm.

“I am not advocating one way or the other,” Vogel said. “This company supposedly has a good track record It would give the Board of Supervisors more accountability on where the money is spent.”

Thornton resident Charlotte Cameron said she was stunned to hear about any proposal to privatize the library system.

“I understand the issues with the budget cuts, but I hope the community is involved before a decision is made,” Cameron said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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