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A $400,000 funding shortfall among Santa Barbara County’s nine branch libraries could lead to the closure of as many as two and reductions in programs and hours at others unless a way is found to fill in the gaps in the 2019-20 budget.

Deficits are expected to plague almost the entire 14-library system every year unless an ad hoc committee can come up with a long-term, sustainable funding method, according to a report delivered Friday at the Board of Supervisors third and final budget workshop for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

“Unlike many other library systems throughout the state, we do not have a dedicated source of funding for libraries,” said Ryder Bailey, chief financial officer for the Community Services Department.

“Our reserves are depleted and we can no longer rely on branch reserves to balance their budgets,” he added.

Cuyama and Guadalupe libraries are in danger of closing entirely unless money can be found to fill their budget gaps, Bailey said.

Los Alamos Library could see hours cut by one-third, to eight hours a week; Orcutt Library could see hours cut in half, to 16 hours a week; and Vandenberg Village Library could lose Saturday and evening hours, he said.

“Partial funding could keep (some libraries) open with reduced hours, but because they pay rent, Guadalupe and Orcutt just may not be cost-effective to have open a few days a week,” Bailey said.

Even Solvang Library, which receives city funding, could be facing a reduction in hours without an infusion of money to fill its $65,000 gap, although Buellton Library’s budget is expected to balance after the city increased its contribution by $50,000, Bailey said.

Santa Maria and Lompoc libraries, which get most of their funds from their cities, are also facing deficits of almost $250,000 and $60,000, respectively.

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Bailey said Santa Maria City Council is working with library officials to make up that facility’s shortfall.

On the South Coast, the Montecito Library is also facing closure without a cash infusion to make up a $136,000 deficit that equals one-third of its budget, Bailey said, although Carpinteria Library’s budget is expected to balance following the passage of Measure X to increase community contributions.

Santa Barbara Library and the Eastside Branch are both well-funded by the city, in fact receiving two to three times the amount per capita as the rest of the 12 libraries.

In addition to a lack of a dedicated funding source, depleted reserves and recent reliance on one-time funds allocated by the Board of Supervisors, the ongoing structural imbalance is being driven by the elimination of state funds, Bailey said.

Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked when the state cut off funding, and Bailey said 2012 was the last time he saw the state provide money for libraries.

“Shame on the Legislature,” Lavagnino said, noting the state is in the best financial shape it’s been in for years. “Every year we come back and say, 'We’ve gotta fill this hole, we’ve gotta fill this hole or the libraries are going to close.'”

First District Supervisor Das Williams indicated he felt an obligation to make up funding at least for the branches without city support.

“For me, it’s a matter of economic justice,” Williams said. “People in unincorporated areas need us as a spokesperson.”

He supported a challenge grant, where the county would contribute a dollar for every dollar provided by the cities and, in unincorporated areas, $2 for every dollar raised by Friends of the Library groups.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Lavagnino said.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.