SIMI VALLEY — By yanking its library out of Ventura County's library system, Simi Valley could save more than $300,000 a year, according to a new report released this week.
A Simi Valley-run library system could operate much as it does today for as little as $977,000 a year with city staffing and resources, rather than the $1.3 million it now costs under the county Library Services Agency, concludes the study by Ralph Andersen & Associates, a Sacramento-based government consulting firm.
Or the city could spend much more and bring Simi Valley's library services and its 150,000-book collection up to par with the state average. The report said spending $1.6 million annually would buy 10 times as many new books, twice as many newspaper and magazine subscriptions, longer hours, a new computer system and membership in a statewide book-lending network.
"It confirms our belief that a Simi Valley city library is not an impossible task . . . that it could be at least as good as what we've got and maybe better," said Mayor Greg Stratton, who intends to discuss the report with the City Council at its next meeting Monday night.
Dixie Adeniran, director of the county Library Services Agency, declined to comment on the Simi Valley report, saying she had not seen it yet.
"I think that [going independent] is an option open to any city within any county library service area," she said. "The methodology for doing it is set out in the education code, and it is up to the local folks to decide what is best for them. Certainly, we'd love to see them stay in the organization."
Simi Valley decided to order the $15,000 report in September, four months after the county began a study of its own 16-branch library system. The libraries in Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Santa Paula are outside the Library Services Agency.
Supervisor Frank Schillo, who spearheaded the countywide review, said he is convinced the libraries could be run better and more cheaply with greater city involvement.
Schillo said Friday he is pleased that the Simi Valley report appears to confirm his view that cities can run their libraries more cheaply than the county Library Services Agency but stopped short of endorsing a plan that would make Simi Valley entirely independent. He proposes the formation of a countywide federation of independent city libraries that would combine forces on some library functions, such as book-purchasing and preparation.
The county is scheduled to unveil its library study during a Nov. 12 joint meeting among the Board of Supervisors and officials from each city, Schillo said.
Simi Valley Councilwoman Sandi Webb said the council very likely will not settle for just taking over the library and running it at the same service level to save money.
More likely, she said, the city will negotiate to recover as much property tax money as possible from the county, then roll the savings back into better programs, equipment and reading material for the library.
"One of the things I'd like to see us do is go out with a survey and find out what level of service the population wants, and what are their priorities," Webb said Friday.
Webb suggests selling out-of-date books from the collection to raise money for installing computers--particularly Internet workstations and educational software--that would be used by children.
The Andersen report states that the Library Services Agency plans to spend only $9,000 this year on new books for the Simi Valley Library. The agency, however, bought $32,000 worth of new books last year, and spent $120,000 on books in 1992, the report states.
"When you look at those numbers, that's not only new books--that's replacement books," Stratton said. "Books die. You hate to say this, but people steal them, kids cut pictures out for their school reports. There is a destruction factor."
More money needs to be spent on new books, and the report shows that Simi Valley can do it only if it can negotiate to take over the responsibility--and the tax dollars--to run its own library, Stratton said.
"I think we all realize that the collection is stagnating," he added. "The complaint I've had is that so much money is going into administration in Ventura and not books, that the library is suffering slow strangulation out here in the hinterlands."