The Los Angeles Times reported last Monday that Los Angeles County's public library system could have a budget shortfall of about $22 million per year during the next ten years. The Library Commission's recommendation is for a property tax increase.
According to the article, about 40 of the county's 87 branches have already cut service back by one or two days.
While serving on the Crescenta Valley Town Council for seven years, I served on the council's library committee, which worked with county departments to secure property and funding for a new facility to replace our cramped 4,300 square-foot library built in 1963. I was also a member of Supervisor Michael Antonovich's library committee, which worked with the architect and county staff to choose a design style and architectural details, such as the use of native stone in the plaza at the front entrance. Additionally, we selected the local artists whose work would be prominently featured in the new building.
It was the efforts of so many La Crescenta residents that made this library special to all of us. The newly constructed 15,000 square-foot building opened in January 2010 and quickly became the community center we'd all envisioned.
I wondered how all of this would affect our library, which is part of the county system. Would it mean cuts in services or hours?
So I called Margaret Donnellan Todd, the county librarian, and asked her what the Commission's report meant. She said that the budget figures are for a "10-year horizon" and that the report is a first step in planning what the county libraries will be like in the future. Part of that is knowing what money will be available for services and facilities.
Currently the unincorporated areas of the county pay a special tax of $27.84 annually that helps fund the libraries. However, 40 of the 51 cities that the county library system serves do not pay the special tax and the portion of their property taxes that go toward the library budget does not meet expenses and must be supplemented with county general funds. The Library Commission proposes that the special tax rate be increased and extended to include all areas the county serves.
Todd added that, since the unincorporated area of La Crescenta already pays this special tax, it's unlikely that we will see any changes in service at our library.
While library use has increased everywhere in the country in the last few years, County library spokeswoman Pam Broussard tells me that the numbers for the La Crescenta branch have more than doubled since the new library opened and they estimate that there will be306,000 visitors this year. That makes us one of the county's busiest libraries.
While no one likes to pay taxes, this special tax that we've been paying since 1997 may just protect us from the budget ax. Isn't our library worth $2.07 per month, or about the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee?
SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at email@example.com.