Ventura County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk has shelved plans to build a new Oak Park library because she fears the county will not have enough money to keep it open.
"It would be totally irresponsible to take this money that we have and build a building and not be able to staff it or run it," VanderKolk said.
The supervisor pointed out that library staff and hours may be cut severely next year at all 16 county libraries, including the small branch that now exists at Oak Park. Under the worst case, the county would have to close most of its 16 branches and lay off 100 of its 120 employees, VanderKolk said.
But Noreen Armerding, president of the Friends of the Oak Park Library, said the county should continue planning for a new building, even if it could only be open for limited hours.
"This is not her money. This is the community's money," Armerding said. "We are not concerned about other people's libraries in Ventura County. She should be serving us in Oak Park."
Under an agreement between county officials and Oak Park's developer, the library's construction would be financed by developer fees being collected in a special fund for public projects in the fast-growing community in eastern Ventura County.
The county's share of the costs, which will come from the developer fees, is expected to be about $1.8 million. The library would be built and run jointly with the Oak Park Unified School District, which is donating a site on the campus of Oak Park High School. The school district may also finance part of the construction as well.
But VanderKolk said the problem is operating costs, not construction costs.
VanderKolk had planned to ask the Board of Supervisors last week for approval to begin design work for the new library. But county officials are bracing for deeper reductions in tax revenues allocated from Sacramento, and VanderKolk said the request to launch the library would have been politically infeasible.
"Do you think the board is going to approve spending $1 million right now when we're in the financial crisis we're in?" she asked, rhetorically.
As for her own vote, VanderKolk said she has pledged to make funding for police and fire protection a priority over all other county programs.
"I would rather have sheriff's deputies on the streets than have another library open," VanderKolk said. The existing Oak Park library sits in the middle of the high school campus and doubles as the school library.
Armerding said that the small library at Oak Park High School does not adequately serve the community. She said parking is limited, some patrons are uncomfortable mingling with high school students, and library patrons must use restrooms elsewhere on the high school campus.
But VanderKolk said that Oak Park won't be the only community with substandard library services.
"After the budget is decided this year, nobody's library budget is going to be adequate," she said.
An Oak Park school official, who has been working with VanderKolk on the new library, said he understood the county's dilemma.
"I wouldn't build a new school if I couldn't run it or staff it," said Stan Mantooth, assistant superintendent. "The money that's sitting there is earning interest, which should help to offset construction cost increases in the future."
Dixie Adeniran, director of the county Library Services Agency, said Oak Park, which has waited for two decades for a permanent library, can wait a few more months until the county's budget situation becomes clearer.
"In terms of the total amount of time that has elapsed up to this point, I don't think the delay is terribly significant," she said.