To: Supervisor Susan Gorin, Chair Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Use Surplus Funds to Restore Sonoma County Library Hours

I urge our supervisors to address the unprecedented funding crisis in our county libraries and provide $1.2 million (just 9%) of the current record budget surplus to restore Monday hours. Our wealthy county has seen library hours slashed from 70 per week in 1981 to 52 in 2011, then down to just 40 hours a week this year. It is inconsistent with the values of our education-loving citizens to deprive our community of this vital public service.

Why is this important?

You can call your Supervisor at 565-2241. Some facts, as reported more fully, with footnote hyperlinks and graphs, in the SonomaIndependent dot org:
While Sonoma County’s economy is surging, and tax revenues are surpassing projections, County libraries are facing their fifth year of the worst funding crisis in a century. As reported in the Sonoma, despite being one of the wealthiest counties in California, Sonoma County spends just $34 per capita on libraries. That’s half of what Napa and Marin County spend, and barely one-quarter of the $124 per capita that San Francisco spends.

As a result of this underfunding, in 2011, Sonoma County libraries cut back their weekly hours system wide by 25%. This ended Monday and nearly all evening hours at 11 libraries. The result has been that the most vital public resource of our community has locked its doors on tens of thousands of patrons, including toddlers, teens, parents, and seniors, who had relied on regular library service. Library visits, with Internet service and book and DVD lending in a free, safe working space for all, had not been diminishing until the enormous cutback in hours caused them to plummet.

Fewer hours has translated into a 22% reduction in visits, meaning 600,000 fewer trips to the library each year. Cutback hours has created lines for computer usage, and reduced services for the more than 100,000 citizens who use our libraries. No other countywide public service experienced similar cutbacks during the recent recession. And no other reductions in services provided by the County missed being restored by an economic recovery that will bring a record $13.5 million surplus to the County’s treasury this fiscal year (ending June 30).

An even larger surplus is projected for next year. Yet our County Supervisors continue to insist that there is no money available to restore library hours, and that this is not their responsibility because a dedicated parcel tax funds our libraries. This ignores the fact that many local governments add funding for libraries, and that the County Government regularly adds funding for services, like roads and law enforcement, when dedicated funding falls short.

During the four years since the Monday closures, inflation-adjusted spending for libraries has dropped 3%. During the same period, the total Sonoma County budget has increased by 16%, and, despite declining crime rates, inflation-adjusted spending on prisons and probation has increased by 23%.

Sonoma County’s Library Director estimates that it would cost $1.2 million per year to reopen the 11 main County libraries on Mondays. This is less than 10% of this year's projected budget surplus, and a small fraction of what the County will spend, from the General Fund, to augment dedicated road repair revenue.

Sonoma County expects to add at least $6 million this year to nearly $50 million in its “rainy day” reserve funds. We want our Supervisors to know that this unprecedented cutback in hours has created four years of rainy days for the many thousands of us, and our families, who use and love our County libraries. We hope that in 2016, a tax initiative can permanently resolve the library funding crisis. Meanwhile, we urge you to place $1.2 million less in the reserve fund this year and next, and dedicate these funds to restoring Monday hours, starting this summer.

Sonoma County’s government website says, “We Work For You.” Our County Supervisors need to fund our library hours shortfall and stop making excuses. Four years of closed Mondays is long enough.