Local libraries thrive despite woes

Despite anticipated budget shortfalls for the Los Angeles County library system of roughly $22 million a year during the next 10 years, its branches in La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta will be shielded from reduced hours or services in the coming years, the county's top librarian said.

The Glendale library system is not directly affected by the county's budget woes. But Glendale Director of Libraries Cindy Cleary said the issues have created a ripple effect.

"There are more people coming through our doors and seeking our services," Cleary said. "I'm not complaining, I like people coming through. But it is adding pressure."

On Nov. 30, county librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd submitted a report to the Board of Supervisors warning that declining revenues could force cuts across the library system in order to avoid a deficit of as much as $22 million by 2020.

But branches in the foothills are not expected to face cuts because they benefit from a special tax assessment in place since 1997.

This year's special library tax for residents of unincorporated areas and 11 cities, including La Cañada Flintridge, is a flat $27.84 per land parcel. The La Crescenta branch also benefits from utility-tax funds, and in La Cañada, property-tax revenues are expected to remain strong despite nationwide declines in real-estate values.

"If you hear that the county libraries are falling apart, that's absolutely not true. We're taking a financial look 10 years down the road," Todd said. "We're primarily looking at some of the cities where there isn't a special tax, and property tax isn't high enough to support operations and we currently cover that [gap] with general-fund contributions."

While many of the 44 county branches — there are 85 in all — have actually increased hours of operation due to the extra revenue, the report predicts that those service enhancements may not be sustainable without a small increase to the parcel tax.

But Todd said more analysis is needed before the system would ask the Board of Supervisors for more money.

Now would be a bad time to ask for more money, said Tony Bell, a spokesman for L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

"Every county department — in fact every agency, whether of the state or federal government — must live within its means. The libraries are no different," Bell said. "Now is not the right time to raise taxes. It's a time to tighten one's belt and look for ways to promote and increase efficiency, to do more with what you have."

The La Crescenta and La Canada Flintridge libraries keep similar hours. The La Crescenta Library is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The La Cañada Flintridge Library opens one hour earlier each day. Both are closed on Sundays.

With a collection of more than 122,000 books, La Cañada's library ranks among the county's 25 busiest branches.

The La Crescenta Library, which opened a brand-new facility late last year, features more than 81,000 books and is visited some 24,000 times each month, making it the 10th most popular library in the system.

Staff writer Bill Kisliuk contributed to this story.

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