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Some Cities Would Win, Some Lose in Library Plan

Budget: Under a restructuring proposal, funds for branches would be allocated based on property tax payments.

August 20, 1996|SHELBY GRAD and RUSS LOAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Irvine's two libraries would open on Sunday for the first time in 18 years but branches in Stanton, Seal Beach and elsewhere could see more cutbacks under a new library restructuring plan being unveiled this week.

The proposal is designed in part to address complaints from Irvine and a few other cities whose residents contribute more property tax revenue to the county library system than their branches receive in services.

The plan would provide branches in so-called donor cities like Irvine, Costa Mesa and Laguna Niguel with more money that could be used to expand hours or upgrade equipment.

Irvine's libraries would receive an additional $176,000--a change greeted favorably by some city officials who have threatened to withdraw from the 27-branch system, saying their residents pay more but don't get sufficient services. The Irvine City Council will vote on whether to pull out at its meeting tonight.

But other cities that now contribute less revenue than they receive in services would face more cutbacks under the county plan. Funding for Stanton's library, for example, would be slashed from $227,000 to $137,000. City officials said Monday that they have yet to determine the impact of such a cut but fear operating hours would have to be reduced.

"To me, if you don't have a library, you don't have the heart of the city," said Councilman David John Shawver. "You are short-changing all the kids who use it. . . . We are very disappointed by the numbers [the county] is talking about."

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Over the next few weeks, Orange County Librarian John M. Adams plans to meet with representatives of affected cities to discuss the new funding allocations and how service would be affected.

The reorganization plan comes as the library system looks for ways to slash its operating budget from $20 million to $17 million. The cuts are expected to be the last of a five-year financial crisis that has seen the system's budget drop from a high of $27 million in 1991.

Budget woes stem from the state's decision to balance its budget by cutting the amount of property tax revenue it allocates to special districts, such as the library system.

The reorganization is meant to give communities more control over their local branches by establishing a commission made up of city leaders. Communities also have the option of enhancing library service either through fund-raising or direct contributions from municipal coffers to boost property tax revenue.

In Irvine, officials said they were somewhat encouraged by the county plan, which would establish Sunday afternoon hours at the University Park and Heritage Park branches--the first in the county system since 1978. The extra money would also be used to buy computers with Internet access for the branches.

"We may decide to stay with the county system for awhile and see how it works," Mayor Mike Ward said. "But we don't want this to be the typical county-type thing where they fix it for a year and hope the problem goes away."

But Councilman Greg Smith said he remains wary. "It still does not bring us back to the level of library service we had four or five years ago," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Library Lines

The proposed county library system reorganization plan is designed in part to balance branch services with taxes paid by the communities served. Cities whose residents pay more in property taxes than they receive in services would get extra money, while some subsidized cities would get less. The proposed changes:

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1995-96 Proposed City budget 1996-97 budget Difference Brea $242,860 $199,984 -$42,876 Costa Mesa 591,131 659,778 68,647 Cypress 358,942 300,353 -58,589 Dana Point 308,142 308,500 358 Fountain Valley 408,970 359,475 -49,495 Garden Grove 872,877 896,114 23,237 Irvine 1,312,287 1,488,442 176,155 Laguna Beach 288,357 245,639 -42,718 Laguna Hills 0 185,054 185,054* Laguna Niguel 358,543 447,556 89,013 La Habra 345,918 309,431 -36,487 Lake Forest 476,780 457,581 -19,199 La Palma 81,372 108,746 -27,374 Los Alamitos 297,549 224,768 -72,781 San Clemente 305,371 357,223 51,852 San Juan Capistrano 544,243 418,503 -125,740 Seal Beach 275,044 187,192 -87,852 Stanton 227,103 137,483 -89,620 Tustin 427,410 429,777 2,367 Villa Park 55,440 51,995 -3,445 Westminster 492,736 463,093 -29,643 Unincorporated 610,246 610,246 0

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* Has no library; under the plan, city officials would have more control over how library tax revenue are spent.

Source: Orange County; Researched by RUSS LOAR and SHELBY GRAD / For The Times

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