Mono County libraries have been spared any drastic cuts to hours, staff or services after years of deficit spending and allegations of mismanagement by current and past administrations. All of the branches will keep their current hours, except the Mammoth branch, which will close at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and open at 10 a.m. not 9 a.m. on Saturdays. No one is getting a pay cut, but the Bookmobile will be decommissioned. The fate of the Bridgeport Library was left undecided, but will be addressed at a future meeting of the Mono County Office of Education (MCOE).
The library system was looking at a $67,000 deficit, but after closer scrutiny of the budget, or before an accounting error was fixed, depending on who is asked, it is looking at a $35,000 deficit. Some employees are union members and their latest contract has not yet been ratified, so there is not an exact figure for the budget.
But keeping the libraries open in the face of dire financial straits was not without controversy. Some community members became outspoken opponents of the library’s current management. Bridgeport resident and Friend of the Bridgeport Library John Scoonover told the Mono County Board of Supervisors at the Board’s regular meeting on Oct. 20 that MCOE has mismanaged the library system and the chief librarian lacks credentials. He then asked if the Board wanted to take over the system. The county handed control of the libraries over to the MCOE in the late 1960s.
Supervisor Fred Stump asked Scoonover, “Have you seen the county’s budget?”
Scoonover replied he had not.
Stump asked if Scoonover was aware that the county had to help local EMT services with $200,000, the county may have to provide money to assist with local Senior Citizen programs, and there’s an El Nino on the way. He said he’s happy to entertain ideas from people who come asking for money if they identify where the money is going to come from, but he said that’s not what he was hearing.
Stump then explained that if the county took over the libraries, funding would remain the same. The funding stream is 1.68 percent of property tax collected in the county. The libraries are also subsidized by the MCOE to the tune of $200,000 annually, an expense the county could not cover. To take over the libraries and keep them open, the $200,000 subsidy would have to come from somewhere, Stump explained. Some other county program would have to get cut. Stump asked Scoonover, rhetorically, what program he would cut.
“What would you do, as a Board member, if you had to approve a budget, a balanced budget as required by law, and pass it in the next two days, and you had no guarantee of any other revenues. What would you do?” asked Stump.
Scoonover said he wasn’t a Board member, nor had the expertise that the Board has. He then asked Stump what the other counties in the state are doing about budget restraints. Mono County is the only county in the state that does not control its local library system.
Stump answered, “They’ve been cutting their library systems.”
Scoonover said he was simply asking the Board to entertain the idea of taking the library over.
Supervisor Larry Johnston said he is in favor of whatever agency would be the most efficient, adding that the county might not do any better than the MCOE.
Dr. Stacey Adler, Superintendent of Schools, and Ana Danielson, Director of Libraries, updated the Board of Supervisors on its progress the Tuesday before the MCOE meeting the following Thursday. Danielson and Adler were asked to respond to the allegations of mismanagement and Danielson’s lack of proper credentials.
Adler said she disagrees that the library system has been mismanaged. All of the braches have continued to stay open, and cuts have been made where available, such as not filling positions of people that have moved or retired. Danielson added that there were many unforeseen financial setbacks since 2007, namely the Great Recession, which resulted in lower property tax revenue and less funding for the system. Meanwhile expenses, 95 percent of which is salaries and benefits, stayed the same or went up.
As far as Danielson not being credentialed, Adler said Danielson is more than qualified. Technically, the State of California requires a specific degree, a Master’s of Library Science, to hold a Library Director’s position. Danielson holds a Master’s degree but not in Library Science, but has been granted a waiver from the state to be a director.
The library system and MCOE are looking at ways to generate additional revenue, such as renting out library space for meetings, charging for WiFi or computer use, although Supervisor Stacy Corless pointed out that many of the people who use the computers of Internet service do so because they can’t afford their own and to charge would defeat the purpose of the service.
The Bridgeport Library will likely be on the next agenda for the MCOE meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 19 in Bridgeport.