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Board Expected to OK Emergency Funds for Libraries

Supervisors: The approval of $111,700 would keep open through January five branches and a literacy program.

September 17, 1996|ERIC WAHLGREN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a move that would once again buy time for Ventura County's smallest libraries, county leaders are expected today to approve spending $111,700 to keep the five local branches and an adult literacy program open until the end of January.

Originally targeted for closure in July 1995, the literacy program and community libraries already received $106,000 in emergency money from the Board of Supervisors earlier this year to spare them until Sept. 30.

Supervisors and county library officials want to bankroll the branches until a consultant comes up with recommendations for shoring up the ailing Library Services Agency, which runs 16 area libraries. At least one supervisor would like to see the deadline extended to July.

The emergency money for the extension to January will come from the $165,000 the county had left after building the new coroner's office in Ventura earlier this year.

"It is imperative that we have the [consultant's] report before we can make a final decision on what to do with the libraries," said Terry Dryer, a program management analyst in the county's chief administrative office.

The reprieve until Jan. 31 would also give county officials time to analyze the results of the November election, when voters will decide the fate of Proposition 218, a measure designed to make it harder to establish special tax districts.

The supervisors voted 3 to 2 in July to move forward with a special benefit assessment district, which would tax homeowners $33 annually for the cash-strapped library system. Although the board agreed to go ahead with the assessment without putting it on the ballot, the passage of Proposition 218 could force a vote on the matter.

Supervisor John K. Flynn said he may propose today that the board try to find another $87,000 to keep the small branches open until the end of July, giving the assessment district a better shot at passage if it appears on the March ballot.

Flynn said if the board was able to find funding in January to extend the deadline past the March election, voters may believe--wrongly--there is enough money to maintain the branches indefinitely.

"The public could say, 'Look, the board found the money again,' " Flynn said. "It becomes a major issue in the [assessment] campaign. If you fund it through July, it is not an issue."

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Over the past three years, as state cuts halved the agency's annual $10-million budget, the county's library agency has been forced to slash hours and lay off staff.

At a cost of $48,300, the county recently hired the Denton, Texas-based Providence Center for Consulting and Planning to conduct a 53-day study on ways to maintain library service.

Due Oct. 29, the report will offer suggestions on how to make the agency more efficient, locate any alternative sources of money and reorganize the library system, Dryer said.

Supervisor Frank Schillo and others have proposed transferring control of county libraries to a Library Federation, made up of city and county representatives.

Although the county's larger libraries appear safe from the budget ax, the five smaller branches--in El Rio, Saticoy, Meiners Oaks, Oak View and Piru--could close at the end of the month if supervisors reject the stopgap funding. Ventura's Avenue Library was also in jeopardy before the city agreed to provide $60,000 to keep the facility open.

Dixie Adeniran, director of the library agency, said she has big hopes for the consultant's report.

"I hope to see recommendations that all of the stakeholders can buy into in regards to the long-term provision of library service in Ventura County so that libraries are funded in an adequate and stable manner," Adeniran said.

The city of Ventura plans to conduct its own study, authorizing $55,100 Monday night for a study by consultant Beverley Simmons, who worked on a statewide project to restore libraries. Consultants will hold one-on-one interviews, as well as focus group meetings, with residents who use the library system and others who do not. Results of the Ventura study should be available by January.

Times staff writer Hilary E. MacGregor contributed to this story.

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