The Mono County Office of Education held a workshop on Thursday, Sept. 24 at the Lee Vining community center to discuss proposed budget cuts with concerned community members. Dean Adams, an attorney for the legal firm Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost, gave a Power Point presentation that outlined proposed cuts to Mono County libraries in order to reduce their deficits and avoid digging further into already-depleted reserves.
Concerned citizens presented pleas for leniency when it came to staffing and hours. In a letter to the board, Fred Stump asked that “no individual community be singled out to bear that burden [of losing staff] particularly in underfunded areas such as Benton. It is one of the few resources they have.”
Self-described “lover of the libraries” Stacey Simon said “cutting salaries and cutting employees is a last resort and I hope your board will look at every option.”
Adams, whose presentation occupied the bulk of the meeting, stated that “You’re at the point now where you’re at the last resort.” The oft-discussed reserves, garnered during a period of high property taxes (which fund the libraries) prior to the 2008 market crash, have fallen from $843,036 in 2010 to a current level of $198,195. Meanwhile, salaries and “health and welfare” costs (such as insurance) continue to rise. Adams, whose firm handles mostly public agencies and presumably affords him some degree of perspective, noted that “the lion’s share of expenditure is always in staff. 78% of the budget is payroll …”
Cutting staff is a proposal that is extremely hard to stomach—Mammoth Branch Librarian Doug Oldham admitted that “when I’m in the position of being talked about being demoted” trying to find ways to avoid it is a reasonable exercise. However, Oldham himself proposed some of the scenarios that Adams outlined in his presentation. Most of these options range from $60,000 to $80,000 in savings per year and offer a range of compromises. These include reducing “small branch” library (such as Benton and Coleville) hours by two to five per week and hours at the Mammoth Branch by four to nine. All of the options included what was gently dubbed “maintaining” the Bridgeport branch at 35 hours per week—currently Bridgeport Branch Manager Abbie Bridges works a 40-hour week, but the library is open for only 35 of those hours. Some options suggested removing the library assistant at Bridgeport, who works 15-18 hours per week depending on the season.
Adams’ power point presentation did, however, seem to quell at least some of the concerns that community members had regarding what they feared might be overall, across-the-board cuts in hours and staffing. Dr. Stacey Adler, Mono County Superintendent of Schools, echoed what seemed to be a palpable sentiment that, when presented as a series of options with clear financial benefits, the cuts were perhaps a slightly less bitter pill to swallow. She explained that “we never just looked at only cutting hours…that’s never been our intent—I erred by not presenting these options in this kind of [Power Point] format, we never even presented it this way to the board…all these options have always been on the table.” MCOE plans a vote on the budget in October.