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Bringing Santa Barbara County's libraries up to minimum standards a costly proposition
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Bringing Santa Barbara County's libraries up to minimum standards a costly proposition

From the What you need to know for Friday, August 28 series
  • Updated

Bringing Santa Barbara County’s branch libraries up to minimum standards could be an expensive proposition, according to a report delivered to the Board of Supervisors this week, but while a number of alternative funding methods were suggested, the board expressed no particular support for any of them.

Instead, the board unanimously directed the Community Services Department staff to continue working with the county’s cities to come up with funding that will maintain minimum standards at all nine branch libraries.

The vote included a specific directive to work with the cities and Friends of the Library groups to come up with a model that can be used to share the financial burden in next year’s county budget.

“This is a shared burden, and while I definitely support getting us … to minimum service levels as articulated [by] the ad hoc [committee], it necessitates some conversations with our cities,” said 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, a member of the Library Ad Hoc Committee whose work the report was based on.

Bringing all nine branches up to the minimum standards recommended by the committee would cost an estimated $641,978 per year.

But just where that money should come from is a matter of debate, complicated by the county’s unique system of administering and funding its branch libraries.

Santa Barbara County contracts with four cities and their libraries to administer the branch libraries and provides $7.80 per capita in funding, which hasn’t changed since the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Those located in cities — only Buellton and Solvang in the North County — also receive municipal funding, and all the libraries receive money from Friends of the Library groups, although some raise much more money than others.

Ryder Bailey, the county’s chief financial officer, said the countywide per capita funding average is $32, but that can range from as high as $62 in Santa Barbara to “barely over the $7.80 we contribute” in Cuyama. California’s per capita average for library funding is $38.

Every year the supervisors must contribute additional funds to cover the libraries’ budget shortfall, which this year was $658,700, bringing the total contribution for the 2020-21 fiscal year to a little more than $4.3 million for a library system that doesn’t meet the recommended minimum standards.

To raise the $641,978 necessary to meet minimum standards, the committee considered a parcel tax, a local sales tax, state and federal grants, philanthropic contributions, memberships, sponsorships, business ventures and sharing resources with other agencies.

“I think there’s so much economic uncertainty that actually pursuing a tax — I don’t really see that in the cards right now,” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, also a member of the ad hoc committee. “But I think all of the other options should be on the table.”

Falling short

The committee established minimum standards in six categories — staffing, collections, programs, technology, facilities and hours of operation — that were adjusted based on library and community size.

“We can’t do everything at every library,” Hartmann explained of the different standards. “This is not the Cadillac version. This is a very minimal version of what we need.”

Seven of the county’s nine branch libraries are located in the North County — Vandenberg Village branch, administered by Lompoc Library; Buellton and Solvang branches, administered by Goleta Library; and Orcutt, Guadalupe, Los Alamos and Cuyama branches, administered by Santa Maria Public Library.

The report showed that none of them meet minimum standards for facilities, one meets the standards for staffing, two meet standards for collections and programs, and three meet standards for technology and hours of operation.

Cuyama and Los Alamos branches meet none of the minimum standards in the six categories. Buellton’s branch meets the most— for staffing, hours, collections and programs.

Solvang’s branch meets standards for hours, collections and programs, Guadalupe’s branch meets standards for technology and hours of operation and the Orcutt and Vandenberg Village branches meet the standards for technology.

The Orcutt branch would cost the most to meet the standards at $220,583 because it rents its facility, as does the Guadalupe branch, which would cost the second-most at $120,555.

Costs to meet standards at the remaining facilities are $54,708 for Los Alamos, $53,662 for Vandenberg Village, $47,156 for Cuyama, $15,500 for Solvang and $8,600 for Buellton.

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