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Cities Press for Local Control of Libraries

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before moving ahead with a library reorganization plan, Simi Valley and Ventura officials want the Board of Supervisors to agree to turn over the cities’ share of library tax revenues and to give them full authority to run their own libraries.

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said he will represent both cities when he makes a formal presentation at a meeting Thursday of the Library Services Implementation Committee. The committee was recently formed to develop a reorganization plan for the financially troubled county library system.

Stratton’s proposal also calls for cities to form a partnership, or possibly a joint powers authority, to provide joint purchasing, accounting and other services. Other cities now served by the 15-branch county library system include Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai and Port Hueneme.

Under his plan, Stratton said all seven cities would retain the right to contract with the joint powers authority for services, perform the services themselves or contract with an outside firm. He said any city that decides not to participate in the authority should be prohibited from determining how such a cooperative is formed or operated.

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Although his proposal closely mirrors a plan discussed by the library committee two weeks ago, Stratton said the main difference is that he wants the supervisors to approve the framework before the library committee begins serious deliberations. Simi Valley, Ventura and Camarillo boycotted the committee’s first meeting Jan. 30 because of questions over the panel’s authority.

“Basically, what we’re saying is, give us the money and the libraries and let us run them,” Stratton said. “If the board can agree to do that, then I think we can do this quickly.”

Indeed, Stratton said he believed that a reorganization plan could be crafted as early as July or August if county and city officials can agree on the ground rules.

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Ventura Councilman Jim Friedman said his city must also have final say over the operation of the libraries within its borders before it participates in any library committee talks. Ventura officials do not plan to attend Thursday’s meeting.

“I don’t want to be part of a committee that doesn’t have authority to make a final decision,” Friedman said. “An implementation committee without any teeth is nothing but a glorified discussion group.”

Supervisors Frank Schillo and Kathy Long, who represent the board on the library committee and who offered up a similar reorganization plan, said Tuesday that they are open to discuss any proposal. They said the main thing is for all of the affected cities to agree first on what they want.

“Whatever they want to do, I’m here to listen,” Schillo said Tuesday. “I’m not here to run the show.”

Meanwhile, the Camarillo City Council is set to decide today whether it will send a representative to the library committee meeting Thursday. Officials expressed concerns that the county is simply trying to dump responsibility for operation of the libraries on the cities.

“My feeling is that if the county is asking for us to work in a cooperative to stretch the money to provide better services for our common constituency, then let’s help,” said Councilman Bill Liebmann, who sits on the city’s library ad hoc committee. “But if the county wants us to fund their system, then I’m not for starting down that road.”

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But Long, whose district includes Camarillo, pointed out that while the county oversees the budget of the Library Services Agency, it has no legal or legislative mandate to operate libraries. The library agency is part of a special district that receives a portion of property taxes and is not supported by the county’s general fund.

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“The cities should be players at the table, because they have the most to gain and lose,” she said.

The county library system has seen its $10-million budget slashed by more than half during the past four years because of state cutbacks. The county has spent more than $2 million to subsidize the system during this time, but officials said it can no longer afford to make contributions and must therefore come up with another way to operate the libraries.

The cities of Oxnard, Santa Paula and Thousand Oaks provide their own library services.

Times correspondents Chris Chi and Dawn Hobbs contributed to this story.


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